A sexist remark from the former Argentina international belittled the players he was meant to honor
FIFA’s The Best awards, a reworked version of what used to be the Ballon d’Or gala, was promising for fair treatment of women’s soccer.
At least, it seemed relatively promising by FIFA standards. Specifically, it was good to see them brand the two main awards as The Best Men’s Player and The Best Women’s Player as opposed to what it was before: World Player of the Year and Women’s Player of the Year. The latter positions men’s soccer as the default and women’s as the secondary, like having the two USA national team Twitter accounts separated as @USSoccer and @USSoccer_WNT; having each award branded by a gender, rather than just the women’s, was a small but relatively powerful gesture. Plus, for the first time, the men’s and women’s winners would be receiving the same trophy—in contrast to only the men receiving a golden ball in years past.
Unfortunately, belief in even the most minute progress was far too wishful thinking. I regret to inform you that the award ceremony proved that FIFA — the organization that was led by a man who said “tighter shorts” are the best way to draw attention to the women’s game and that, just last year, came under fire for holding the entire Women’s World Cup on turf — was at it again.
When Gabriel Batistuta stepped up to present The Best Women’s Player of the Year, he was asked about how far women’s football has come; a fair and interesting question, considering the Women’s World Cup didn’t exist when he started his career. But his answer crashed and burned almost as soon as it had began.
“I think they’re playing really well, and in some cases, better than the men!” he said. But then he continued with: “No, really, jokes aside…”
Remember, Batistuta was presenting the award to the best women’s footballer in the world, awarded on the highest stage. And sure, his flippant comment was followed by genuine praise of the women’s game and the progress it’s made. But what was the point of making a joke in the middle? What did it serve to do besides undermine the very award he was presenting and the women to whom he was presenting it?
No matter how far women’s soccer goes, there will be always the criticism that they will never be truly good until they can beat a men’s team—which is an implied “never.” It’s a very common critique of the U.S. women’s national team specifically, a huge (and purposeful) insult considering their constant success and the men’s lack thereof. And Batistuta’s comment further reinforces that even under the conditions of the highest success, men will always be regarded higher. Being one of the three best in the entire world at what you do does not excuse you from jokes at the expense of your achievements just because you are a woman.
Batistuta’s comments were distasteful, disappointing, and unnecessary. Pitting men’s and women’s sports against each other in any context, especially in the context of — I cannot repeat this point enough — literally presenting an award celebrating the latter, is incredibly unproductive. Men’s and women’s soccer are different and that’s fine. Maybe next year Mia Hamm or Nadine Angerer can present the award; they’d probably have some better things to say.