Women’s Euro 2022: Every sport deserves its Ada Hegerberg

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There she stood. Raising her rainbow armband in the sky above. In honor of those who had suffered at the hands of hate in Oslo. With a message. “#Love”. Ada Hegerberg was playing in only her third game since returning back to the Norwegian national team after five long years when the country capital was dealt with a tragedy. The shootings at a popular LGBTQ+ venue, the Herr Nilsen jazz club and another pub on June 25.

With the women’s national team playing against New Zealand later on the same day, Hegerberg opened the scoring and raised her rainbow captain’s armband as a tribute to those that had suffered. A gesture she explained post-match on her social media using just one word.

This was Hegerberg’s fourth goal in her third match since returning to play for the national team after a five-year hiatus. The 26-year-old had decided not to don the national shirt in her protest of gender inequality issues at the Norwegian Football Federation (NFF). “(NFF) took a train back to the 1800s and stayed there,” Hegerberg had said in her ESPN+ documentary (My Name is Ada Hegerberg), recalling the frustrations that had led to her decision back in 2017.

In the 42-minute documentary, it is revealed that the Norway women’s national team were subjected to issues such as getting to play on inferior pitches than their male counterparts, boots arriving late, and when they did arrive, they were often wrong-sized. All of these while they played the 2019 World Cup qualifiers. Even though the NFF was one of the first in Europe to equalise pay between men and women’s team players, Hegerberg has insisted that the problems are beyond the monetary amounts received.

She mentions in a section that a certain coach had asked her to hush up when she raised gender bias issues to the NFF directors. It would all take a toll on her as the Norway international would later mention she had nightmares during that phase. With the administrators taking no action in the direction of improving the standard of facilities for the women’s team, Hegerberg decided to part ways with the national team. A decision that evoked criticism, even from some of her Norway teammates.

The Norwegian FA would paint the blame on Hegerberg, stating that her decision took them by surprise whereas the player claimed that she had put this situation into the federation’s head months ago. Norway would go into the 2019 World Cup without Hegerberg and reach the quarter-finals stage before losing 3-0 to England.

To understand who Norway and the World Cup was missing, one only needs to look at the honours list of 23-year-old Ada Hegerberg pre-tournament, in the summer of 2019. Five league titles, four Coupe de France and four Champions League titles with Lyon that included a 30-minute hat-trick in the 2019 final. Hegerberg, who won the Ballon D’or in 2018, also surpassed Anja Mittag as the all-time highest goal scorer in the Women’s Champions League in 2019. She also became the quickest to score 50 goals in Men’s and Women’s Champions League history.

For Norway, she had scored 38 goals in 66 appearances (ninth highest among women) and reached the finals of the 2013 Euros. Her absence only made the international game poorer and Hegerberg restored it to its full glory in her first appearance for the national team in five years by scoring a forty-minute hat-trick against Kosovo in the 2023 World Cup qualifiers. “I missed it, I missed it a lot,” Hegerberg told The Guardian about her return to the national team.

“Playing for your country, representing your country, is fantastic. Something that sticks deep is the connection with the new generation. I remember the link up with all these young girls and boys when with the national team, feeling that you have a connection and are inspiring them, that was a big deal to me.”

Hegerberg expressed that she felt it was the right time to make a return, with the Norwegian FA being led by its first women president in Lise Klaveness, a former Norway international herself. “She has been very clear that there’s been a lot of changes in the system, new people in, that have helped create new dynamics,” the 26-year-old said in her Guardian interview when asked of her conversations with the newly appointed Norwegian FA chief. “Ultimately, we could have talked about the situation forever, but it’s all about being in this together now. I want to be a part of it again and to try and help lift things even more, because obviously there’s always more to do.”

Hegerberg’s time with the Lyon Football Club is vital to understand her perspective on the changes that need to happen for girls and women playing football for Norway. Lyon have the most decorated women’s football team in Europe, with eight Champions League titles. The French club under the presidency of Jean-Michel Aulas have consciously worked on creating mirror facilities and providing the same resources for their men’s and women’s team. From training/strength and conditioning venues to the kits, from playing turf quality to travel and accommodation facilities. Lyon have set the standard for even bigger football powers in Europe to follow.

Lyon’s win in the 2021/22 Women’s Champions League Final against Barcelona was indicative of how far off they are as a team from clubs with even bigger resources. A 3-1 campaign conclusion saw Hegerberg score the second goal of the match and another one later that was ruled offside. She had previously scored a goal in each of the two semi-final legs against PSG. A sizzling silverware contribution having missed professional football for 18 months owing to an ACL injury.

And with her four goals in four games for Norway since her return, the national team and their fans have the star player they would want going into the Women’s Euro 2022. So does the sport. Ada Hegerberg isn’t just one of the very best at football but also someone who brings the best out of football. A player who walked away from the international game at the peak of her powers to press on the larger issue she felt plagued the game in her country. The kind of player the game deserves, perhaps one that every game deserves. The kind whose legacy isn’t defined by their own career but by those who follow.

In a recent chat with the Los Angeles Times, on being asked what she wanted her legacy to be, Hegerberg’s answer was short, optimistic, and personal. “I just really hope I did everything for my sport to be appreciated, respected and left in a better way than what I found it in. It’s much bigger than me.”





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