Why the Ballon d’Ors are the worst awards in the world

When the aliens arrive we’re going to have a lot of explaining to do. Of course, any exploratory space faring alien race will be au fait the sciences, naturally, and we’ll likely share at least a parallel common understanding of concepts such as love, economics and restaurants, but none of this is going to help us explain golf. Or cigarettes. Or Paddy McGuinness. Imagine having to explain Dressage as if the reputation of the human race depended on it? Exposed to the cold hard objectivity of an imaginary alien observer, most of our earthly pursuits are completely and utterly daft.

And yet all of them pale in comparison with the nonsense that is ‘Awards Season’. That special, reflective time of the year when we look back on the previous annum and decide the people who really deserve recognition for their efforts are movie stars and sportsmen. Where, not content with staging several lavish near identical events to award golden statues to those who’ve proved the most convincing at reading aloud made up situations, we broadcast them to the world, turning even these glorified readers entering a building draped in different coloured shapes of cloth into it’s own special news event.

We are truly doomed as a civilization.

And yet even within this daft of the daft, there is a dafter brush still. The Ballon d’Ors. For the FIFA Ballon d’Or Awards Gala (to give them their full name) are the worst awards in the entire world.

Only FIFA could take a provincial magazine’s respected singular award and turn it into an excruciating hour and a half prize giving costumed pageant. Only FIFA could turn an impartial voting system trusted since 1956, into such a politically convoluted and controversial one the votes need to be made public to sooth fears of a fix up. And still don’t. Only FIFA could spend half an award ceremony dedicated to the best player of 2013 promoting the World Cup of 2014 only a mere month after it’s similarly egregious draw Gala held specifically to do that.

But this isn’t why they’re the worst awards in the world.

The adding of accessory awards to the ceremony may not intrinsically be a bad thing. The women’s award in particular is a worthwhile addition, having no equivalent of a similar profile. The rest though are merely window dressing, included to fluff out the ceremony so Blatter and his cronies can fill up a few more gratuity seats for the ‘football family’. Is there really any need, for example, for an officially sanctioned Goal of the Season? And does it need to be given at an awards ceremony? Was Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s failure to make the final three for the big prize suitably exorcised by his blue ribbon for scoring the prettiest goal? Will there be a Save of the Season? What does the Fair Play Award actually do? This year even included the 35th annual Pele Award for being Pele, otherwise known as the inaugural Prix d’Honneur, a back door way for FIFA to retrospectively give a Ballon d’Or to whomever they like whenever their PR department demands it.

But these too are not why they’re the worst awards in the world. The reason is overwhelmingly down to one award. The FIFA Presidential Award.

The FIFA Presidential Award was invented in 2001 by Sepp Blatter and is hard to explain largely on the basis that it has no criteria. Sepp can award the FPA to anyone or anything he likes, animal, vegetable, mineral or concept, and frequently does. It seems to have been created solely because Sepp didn’t have enough control over any of the other awards, and wanted one for himself which he could award to, say, Desmond Tutu or the Queen of Jordan if he liked. He did.

The Presidential Award also serves another purpose. Such is the almost constant controversy Sepp manages to attract by pitching himself as the hybrid footballing equivalent of Boris Johnson and a dodgy car salesman, that the award can also be used as a convenient tool for damage limitation. It’s unsurprising to learn then, what with his frequent faux pas in sexual politics, that women’s football has received significant recognition. As significant as possible in fact as the entire concept of women’s football won the award in 2008. While it may seem odd to present a single small trophy to an entire sporting concept (and raises all sorts of baffling questions about who gets to keep it) at least its better than giving it to something completely tangential like, say, the actress from Bend It Like Beckham. Thankfully Sepp covered both bases here, awarding Parminder Nagra the FPA in 2002.

Occasionally the honour is afforded to actual footballing people. Pele, naturally, got in 2007 for his continuing dedication to being Pele (and dutifully turning up to present any old guff FIFA asks) whilst Sir Alex Ferguson and Franz Beckenbauer received it in 2011 and 2012 respectively, in what most commentators agree was Sepp being no fun at all. Sometimes though he just feels like being nice, awarding it to a paralysed player in 2001, a dead player in 2006 and Anders Frisk, the Chelsea death threat referee in 2005, seemingly just to cheer him up a bit.

This years award went to Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, undaunted by the fact that we’re two summers away from the last Olympics and a full month away from starting the next, making it practically the only time it’s not appropriate to present an award for Olympic achievement.

Of course, the Ballon d’Ors would still be awful without this. The forced spectacle, the compulsory yet also completely needless live music, the fact footballers can’t give good speeches, the crying.

When Cristiano Ronaldo first won the award in 2008, it was awarded to him in private, delivered to his house with a photographer and a thought out, well-conducted interview was published. Now we have this. At least actors have a sense of oratory performance that’s plausibly worth watching. How are we supposed to explain Ronaldo’s awkward stunted speech and self-indulgent blubbing to an advanced alien race?  What if our possible inclusion in a new galactic alliance or advanced state of enlightenment depends on it?  Yup, we are truly doomed as a civilization.

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