Norway’s Hegerberg wins first Ballon d’Or for women

<p>
              Olympique Lyonnais' Ada Hegerberg celebrates with the Women's Ballon d'Or award during the Golden Ball award ceremony at the Grand Palais in Paris, France, Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. Awarded every year by France Football magazine since Stanley Matthews won it in 1956, the Ballon d'Or, Golden Ball for the best player of the year will be given to both a woman and a man. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
            </p>

PARIS (AP) — Sixty-two years after Stanley Matthews won the first Ballon d’Or, the women’s game received its inaugural winner: Trailblazing Norwegian forward Ada Hegerberg.

But despite being recognized as the best female footballer in the world, the outspoken 23-year-old Hegerberg said she won’t play for Norway at the Women’s World Cup in France next June.

Taking a stand against what she describes as a lack of respect for female players in Norway, Hegerberg hasn’t played for the national team since it crashed out of the group stage of the Women’s European Championship in 2017 without scoring a goal.

In Paris to collect her Ballon d’Or at a gala on Monday, Hegerberg told The Associated Press she has no plans to reconsider her decision taken to preserve her “authenticity and my values, as a person, as a footballer.”

“A lot of things need to be done to make the conditions better for women who play football,” she said. “It’s all about how we respect women’s football. I don’t think the respect has been there.

“Sometimes you have to take tough decisions to stay true to yourself. I let them know, quite clearly, what I found wasn’t working.”

The three-time Women’s Champions League winner with French team Lyon says she’ll be resting during the World Cup and training for the next season with her club.

“I wish the national team the best, though. We just follow two different paths at the moment,” she said. “I have no regrets with the decision I made.”

A jury of 45 journalists picked her from among 15 nominees for the inaugural Ballon d’Or for women.

Hegerberg, who scored a tournament-record 15 Women’s Champions League goals last season, said winning the trophy “tops everything” and described it as “a huge step for women’s football.”

“It’s not that often that I use the word ‘proud’ but today I’m really proud,” she told The AP.

But she also expressed frustration with the uneven pace of progress for women.

“Sometimes you have episodes or situations where you feel like, ‘Damn, we’re in such a man’s world,'” she said. “That could be in a daily situation, being a woman, to be honest. Outside of the pitch as well. There’s a lot of discussions to take and to bring on the table as a woman in 2018. Being a women’s footballer and winning the Ballon d’Or tonight is a step for me to take that action, personally.”

France Football magazine has been awarding the Ballon d’Or — until now only to men — since 1956, when Matthews was the first winner.