On Monday, Norwegian athlete Ada Hegerberg, 23, became the first winner of the women’s Ballon d’Or award, an achievement that recognizes her as the best women’s soccer player in the world. For more than 60 years, the distinguished award had only been given to men.
But the Internet is abuzz not because of the history-making Hegerberg, but because of a gaffe by the ceremony’s host. Accepting the award at the Grand Palais in Paris was supposed to be Hegerberg’s moment; instead, just minutes after she concluded a heartfelt speech in which she encouraged young girls to “please believe in yourselves,” Hegerberg was approached by French disc jockey Martin Solveig, the host, who asked: “Do you know how to twerk?”
Clearly uncomfortable, Hegerberg shook her head and responded with a terse “no,” before appearing to attempt to leave the stage. The audience, namely French soccer player Kylian Mbappé, who was also honored, was visibly stunned. The move has since sparked global outrage, after a clip of the exchange, which only lasted seconds, was uploaded to Twitter. As of early Tuesday morning, it had been viewed more than 7 million times.
The fierce backlash prompted Solveig to publicly apologize shortly after the ceremony. In a video shared to his Twitter page, Solveig could be seen taking a deep breath before starting his apology.
“I’m a little bit amazed as to ... what I’m reading on the Internet,” he said. “I, of course, didn’t want to offend anyone.”
He continued: “This comes from a distortion of my English level and my English cultural level, which is obviously not enough because I didn’t mean to offend anyone, and I didn’t know that this could be seen as such an offense.”
Solveig noted that after asking if Hegerberg knew how to twerk, the pair danced together onstage to Frank Sinatra. In a tweet accompanying the video, Solveig wrote, “I don’t invite women to twerk but dance on a Sinatra song.”
“This was a joke, probably a bad one, and I want to apologize for the one I may have offended,” he said in the video. “Sorry about that.”
Following Solveig’s cringeworthy misstep, Hegerberg told John Leicester of the Associated Press that she “wasn’t upset.”
“He came to me after the situation and he apologized, but I didn’t take it as that at all,” she said. “I got to dance a bit and I got the Ballon d’Or and that was what was in my mind.”
When asked if she felt the question was sexist, Hegerberg, who has been an outspoken critic of the treatment of female athletes, said the thought “didn’t come to my mind at all.”
“There are a lot of other subjects to discuss if we talk about” sexism in sports, she said.
Though Hegerberg said she wasn’t bothered, Solveig’s attempt at humor incensed just about everyone else. Solveig’s question earned rebukes from current and former members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team and other top athletes.
Citing Norway’s lack of respect for female soccer players, Hegerberg has announced that she will not be playing for her native country during the Women’s World Cup next year, AP reported. She doubled down on her decision Monday, telling AP that “a lot of things need to be done to make conditions better for women who play football.”
“Sometimes, you have to take tough decisions to stay true to yourself,” said Hegerberg, who plays for Olympique Lyonnais, an elite French club. “I let them know, quite clearly, what I found wasn’t working.”