BALLON D’OR FÉMININ: AN EXERCISE IN PR?

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HARSHVARDHAN GHADGE | 7th December 2019

On a star-studded night in the heart of France, featuring some of the biggest names of world football, France Football Magazine threw its annual party, one which was at par with the hoity toity standards of the Parisian elite. The yearly gala saw Lionel Messi standing atop, unvanquished, with his monumental 6th Ballon d’or triumph; the Argentinian maestro leaving behind his Portuguese nemesis somewhat eclipsed Megan Rapinoe’s accolade.

The American skipper cumulated the most votes, with English defender Lucy Bronze and Alex Morgan, Rapinoe’s fellow world champion finishing behind her.

But soon the usual keyboard battles calmed and supporters gradually dived into the number’s game of women’s football. It’s safe to say the results left most raising their eyebrows to put it lightly.

Football fans and pundits alike have since questioned US forward Megan Rapinoe’s Ballon d’Or Féminin for the world’s best female player, drawing the argument that the decision was more of a popularity contest than based on her displays on the pitch.

Megan Rapinoe was in full swing for the world to behold

Megan Rapinoe, with her dyed pink hair and arms outstretched was a regular sight at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019, where she scored 6 times and scooped the Golden Boot along with the World Cup. Rapinoe also whisked away the FIFA Best Women’s Player prize in September, on the back of captaining the US to World Cup glory in France in the summer. All in all, there is no denying that she had a phenomenal tournament.

Since coming out about her sexual orientation in 2012, Megan has rarely been absent from the headlines and rightly so.  The 34-year old American is now a cultural icon and has amassed a colossal LGBT following, drawing praise from all over the planet for her efforts to make the game all-inclusive. Her outspoken stance on equal pay and fighting the right fight for women’s football is spectacular and Rapinoe deserves the legendary status that she has accrued.

After her most recent triumph at the Theatre du Châtelet in the French capital, the platitudes duly flowed in for the Reign FC star and not just for her footballing talents.

However, amidst all the admiration, the basic criteria for winning the prestigious Ballon D’or simply does not align in this case. Fans and pundits alike have questioned whether proceedings in Paris had been decided by Rapinoe’s stances off the pitch, rather than her actual performances on the pitch.

Among the critics of her Ballon d’Or victory was former US women’s international Ella Masar, who did not mince any words on the matter.

Rapinoe’s World Cup win with the US clearly carried a serious element of clout, but looking at the winger’s record in that tournament, many felt she had not even been her country’s best player. Fans namechecked teammates such as Crystal Dunn, Julie Ertz and Rose Lavelle as putting in better performances throughout the tournament. Lavelle was 8th in the Ballon d’Or rankings, while Dunn and Ertz did not even make the top 20. Digging into the club stats, observers noted that the Reign FC player Rapinoe has failed to score or assist for her team in a season which has been disrupted by international duty and injury, playing 6 matches in entirety this season. How playing 6 matches can equate to winning the greatest individual honour in women’s football defies logic and points to partisan and lackadaisical decision-making.

A feeling of plunder surrounded the award, a global sentiment being that Lucy Bronze and Lavelle were absolutely robbed of the award.

Australian sensation Sam Kerr, who recently signed for Chelsea, banged in 20 goals in Chicago Red Stars’ run to the National Women’s championship final, but only managed to reach 7th in the Ballon d’Or rankings.

But what astonished fans was that Arsenal goal-machine, Vivianne Miedema not make the elusive top 3 after piling on jaw dropping displays, week in and week out. The 23-year old Dutchman has netted 49 times for club and country in 2019 alone. The achievements continue, as the deadly forward assisted 16 goals, grabbing the Premier League top goalscorer award as well as the top assister award. To top it off, Miedema finished the 18/19 season featuring in the PFA Team of the Year.

Miedema has been simply unplayable at times for the Gunners

None of these players, however, have the same universal appeal as Rapinoe.

All of this has left Ballon d’Or organizers and the 50 journalists who selected the women’s winner open to accusations that political posturing and off-field status ultimately carried more weight than the power of sheer performance.

Megan Rapinoe is the hero women’s football deserves but to keep a spade a spade, it is an indictment to the progression the sport is seeing if awards as sought-after as the Ballon d’Or Féminin are not based on meritocracy, it is certainly a case of taking one step forward and two steps back.

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