Watch them play football is what I mean, and wipe that lascivious leer off your face. What, you don’t even know what I’m on about?
Fair enough. Though most people, even those who don’t follow football, have heard of Lionel Messi, few have heard of Ada Hegerberg.
Yet they have much in common. Both are professional footballers. Both are strikers. Messi is the world’s best player among men, Hegerberg among women.
Then of course there are also some differences. Hegerberg is a Norwegian playing in France, Messi is an Argentine playing in Spain. Messi is my height, which is short, Hegerberg is three inches taller, which is tall for a woman and about average for a Norwegian one. Messi is heavily tattooed, Hegerberg isn’t, at least not where one can see.
And here comes one salient difference: Hegerberg is paid £343,000 a year; Messi, about £112 million all in, roughly half of it in salary.
Miss Hegerberg thinks this disparity is grossly unfair. That’s why she’ll boycott the Women’s World Cup this summer, so rankling is what she calls a “lack of respect” for female players.
We all know that respect means nothing unless a high monetary value is attached to it. Hence, say, Mozart, who could barely make both ends meet, isn’t really worthy of respect as much as, say, Elton John who rakes in tens of millions.
That much is clear. Then again, since English isn’t Miss Hegerberg’s first language, perhaps she doesn’t really mean respect. Perhaps she simply means that male and female players should be paid the same amounts of money.
“Football is my biggest passion in life and I’ve worked really hard to get here,” explains Miss Hegerberg. I’m sure this is true. Yet I know many people who are passionate about their jobs and work really hard without earning anywhere near £343,000 a year.
Football, continues Miss Hegerberg, “is so important to me that I can’t sit and watch things not go in the right direction.” The right direction then is towards equal pay for her and Lionel Messi.
“It’s impossible to be in football and not fight for equality,” she explains…The more people give attention to equal pay, the easier it gets”.
She’s both wrong and right. For it’s possible for a footballer not to talk about equality. Thousands of players, male and female, manage to desist successfully.
But it’s true that screaming appeals to the God of Equality do work – just look at women tennis players. All major tournaments now award equal prizes to men and women, even though the latter spend half the time on court (and, by the looks of them, in training), have nothing like the men’s technique and attract nothing like the men’s following.
However, I can see certain problems specific to football. For, unlike tennis players, footballers aren’t paid by tournament organisers. They are under contract to their privately owned clubs, and their salaries are set individually.
The players’ pay reflects their quality and commercial clout, along with the owners’ wealth and ambition.
I’m not aware of any authority, at least in the West, that can dictate to the clubs how much they must pay their players, male or female. Thus huge disparities of income are inevitable both within each sex and between them.
Now leaving the owners’ wealth and ambition aside, how does Miss Hegerberg think her quality and commercial clout compare to Messi’s?
As far as quality is concerned, she’d have to be delusional to believe that she’s as good as a top player in the men’s pub league, never mind a top professional.
Actually, I’d rather watch a good pub league match than the Women’s World Cup. The former wouldn’t be an exemplar of technical mastery, but then neither would it be as excruciatingly dull as the latter.
In fact, the technical and physical gap between men and women in football is even greater than in tennis, where God knows it’s huge.
As to the comparative commercial clout, I can only repeat the rhetorical question in the title. Hundreds of millions of football lovers around the world pay exorbitant ticket prices to watch top male professionals weave their magic on the pitch. And if Hegerberg’s team played on one TV channel and Messi’s on another, which one would draw a higher rating? Quite.
So what’s the basis for Miss Hegerberg’s demand for ‘equality’ (she doesn’t know the difference between ‘equal’ and ‘the same’, but then many native speakers make the same mistake too)? There’s none, other than a voracious political appetite.
She is jumping with both feet on the bandwagon of our care-share-be-aware New Age, where neither reason nor justice can hitch a ride.
Like all New Age activists, she has the ear to catch the distant rattle of the bandwagon. And like Billy Jean King in tennis half a century ago, Hegerberg knows when the time is right to jump on.
For years now, TV companies and newspapers have been trying to shove women’s dull, inept football down our throats. A serious propaganda effort is under way, and every such movement needs its figureheads.
Ada Hegerberg is happy to oblige. I don’t know how she’ll be able to get her way, but something tells me she will. That bandwagon is gathering enough speed to crush any obstacle.