Two years ago, Lionel Messi clinched the 2021 Ballon d’Or in a vote steeped in controversy, leaving many to question the fairness of the process, especially in light of Robert Lewandowski’s exceptional performance. This incident triggered a comprehensive review of the Ballon d’Or selection process by its original organizers, France Football, leading to significant alterations from 2022 onward. In this article, we delve into the changes implemented and elucidate how the global voting system operates today.
Established in 1956 by Gabriel Hanot, head of France Football, the Ballon d’Or initially aimed to acknowledge outstanding European players. Over the years, the award criteria evolved to include non-European players competing for clubs in European countries. By 2007, the accolade expanded its scope to consider players worldwide, reflecting a truly global perspective.
France Football has been at the helm of the Ballon d’Or’s evolution, refining its structure over time. The adjustments made post the 2021 debacle are the latest in a series of modifications intended to uphold the award’s integrity.
An essential modification made ahead of the 2022 award pertained to the pool of voters. Previously, a media representative from over 180 nations received a ballot, aiming to confer a genuinely global status upon the Ballon d’Or. Starting in 2022, France Football restricted the nations eligible to participate in the voting process. The criteria were based on the top 100 countries from the FIFA men’s world ranking (for the men’s award) and the top 50 countries from the women’s world ranking (for the women’s award). This alteration aimed to ensure that only countries with a well-established football culture and comprehensive coverage of major leagues worldwide had a voice in this esteemed award.
In the past, a player’s overall career performance was a significant factor in the voting process, allowing for subjective interpretation. This resulted in Messi clinching the award in 2021 despite having inferior statistics compared to Lewandowski. To address this issue, France Football introduced a more defined set of criteria for voters to consider:
1. Individual performance in the previous season (no longer determined by the calendar year).
2. Team success during the previous season.
3. Player behavior and fair play throughout the season under review.
These stringent parameters aim to ensure that players who consistently perform at an elite level and contribute to their team’s success are duly recognized.
Historically, France Football has published each ballot in the weekend following the award ceremony. This comprehensive list includes the names of the media members, their respective outlets, and the players they voted for, ranked in order of preference. This transparency encourages scrutiny and discussion, especially following contentious decisions, as witnessed in 2021. With the refined criteria, future winners will need to demonstrate exceptional performance and achievements to secure the award.
In 2021, a panel of 180 international journalists nominated the 30 finalists for the men’s Ballon d’Or, along with the Yashin award finalists for goalkeepers. Additionally, 50 international women’s soccer journalists selected the women’s Ballon d’Or candidates. Lastly, a group of 32 former Ballon d’Or winners nominated the 10 Kopa Trophy finalists (Under-21 players). The reduction in the number of jurors is anticipated to enhance objectivity, prioritizing individual excellence in determining the overall winner of the Ballon d’Or.