2024 Best Awards signal the change for women
In the lush world of international football awards, the FIFA Best Awards on Monday evening seemed to announce a change. A small change, a signal, but one that feels significant and long overdue. It came in the form of the recognition and celebration of the achievements of women in football.
The awards were focused on Women’s football, there was only one male presenter, there were no grand speeches by men, only women came out to announce and hand over the trophies. Men’s awards were still given out of course, but the focus was equally shared.
In hindsight it was a logical thing to do as the first FIFA awards to follow the successful Women’s World Cup last summer, but it was different and it was welcome.
And it seemed different. It wasn’t just about including women in the nominations or adding a few categories, but was more in keeping with a spotlight that brought women's achievements to the fore.
We all know the history. For decades football has been male-dominated, with women banned, their contributions ignored or overshadowed. But women have been a part of football's story since its inception. From Lily Parr, a prolific goalscorer in the early 20th century, to Marta Vieira da Silva, six-times a FIFA World Player of the Year, women have consistently demonstrated their presence on the field.
These awards were a small part of the rebalancing.
The world needs no reminder of the shambolic scenes that followed the success of the World Cup winners Spain last July. Luis Rubiales, who at the time was President of the Spanish FA, was involved in acts of sexism that have no place anywhere, let alone on a public stage after the final of the Women’s World Cup.
Many of the women being recognised were part of that Spanish World Cup winning team. It was a shame that Jenni Hermosa the forward who has been so steadfast in taking on the Spanish establishment did not win an award.
The enhanced focus on women, whether at the Best Awards or through television coverage of tournaments, or the increasing star power of women, is having a positive impact. There is more visibility and it is inspiring a new generation of young girls to lace up boots and take to pitches. It also signals to sponsors, clubs and leagues the importance of investing in women's football. Commercial deals for those at the top will help in professionalizing the sport that will set a precedent in the value of women as athletes.
The FIFA Best Awards have always seen women making powerful contributions, who can forget Megan Rapinoe in 2019. This year Aitana Bonmati summed up the mood: “I’m proud of being part of a powerful generation of women who are changing the rules of the game and the world”.
Shout-outs also to England goalkeeper Mary Earpes whose message of resilience was topped off with: “It’s never too late to be exactly who you are. I think 2023 showed us that when we come together and we speak out on injustices, we can change the world."
Brazilian legend Marta picked up a special recognition award and FIFA paid her the honour of recognising her as one of the all-time greats by naming a new annual award for the best goal scored by a woman. “It's very difficult to get on this stage. I've already won this award six times but… I want all women to be able to see a promising future” she said.
Challenges remain. Gender pay gaps, lack of facilities and resources and media coverage disparity are just a few issues that women continue to face. The journey to equality is not resolved by one set of FIFA awards but it can be part of the recognition of the powerful generational change that Bonmati referred to. Bring it on.
* In case you didn’t know The Best awards are decided after votes from national team captains, coaches, journalists and fans. Lionel Messi won Men’s Player of the Year
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