It was meant to be a moment of triumph. Ada Hegerberg, a 23-year-old Norwegian soccer player, had just become the first woman to win the Ballon d’Or, one of soccer’s most prestigious individual honors.
But for some, the historic moment was quickly spoiled when, in an onstage exchange after her acceptance speech on Monday, the French D.J. Martin Solveig asked Ms. Hegerberg something that had nothing to do with her expertise: whether she knew how to twerk.
“No,” Ms. Hegerberg said, quickly dismissing the idea.
Absolute trash: French DJ Martin Solveig asks Ada Hegerberg to twerk after receiving the first women’s Ballon d’Or award. (Love her response, though.) This is the crap female athletes deal with on a daily basis around the world.pic.twitter.com/y2TLe3v4u9
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) December 3, 2018
The exchange took off on social media, where critics — including some high-profile athletes — accused Mr. Solveig of sexism and assailed him for undermining a moment of professional achievement with a reference to the provocative dance move. The controversy nearly overshadowed the news that Luka Modric beat Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for the men’s Ballon d’Or. The award for best player had been reserved for male players from its inception in 1956, until the women’s Ballon d’Or was created this year.
“This is an absolute joke,” Lindsey Horan, a United States women’s team midfielder who was one of the finalists for the women’s Ballon d’Or, tweeted in response to Mr. Solveig’s comment. She offered her support for Ms. Hegerberg: “Congrats and you do not deserve this.”
Andy Murray, the tennis star, also condemned the comment in a post on Instagram. “To everyone who thinks people are overreacting and it was just a joke.. It wasn’t,” he wrote. “I’ve been involved in sport my whole life and the level of sexism is unreal.”
But even as others held up the moment as yet another example of sexism in sports, Ms. Hegerberg said she didn’t view it that way. “I wasn’t upset,” she told The Associated Press. “He came to me after the situation and he apologized, but I didn’t take it as that at all.”
She said her mind was on her achievement: “I got the Ballon d’Or.”
In a video posted on Twitter, Mr. Solveig said he was “amazed” by the comments he had seen online. “I didn’t mean to offend anyone and I didn’t know that this could be seen as such an offense, especially if you consider the sequence in total,” he said.
After Ms. Hegerber dismissed the twerking comment, Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon” began to play, and she and Mr. Solveig slow-danced briefly.
Mr. Solveig played music and danced throughout the ceremony. When Kylian Mbappé, who helped France’s men’s team win the World Cup this year, won the Kopa Trophy for the best men’s player under 21, he and the D.J. danced (albeit without touching) to Drake’s “God’s Plan.”
Still, in his Twitter post, Mr. Solveig acknowledged his comment to Ms. Hegerberg was a misstep: “This was a joke — probably a bad one.”
The Ballon d’Or, awarded annually by the magazine France Football, was originally created to honor the European player of the year, and has had a history of exclusion. The Brazilian soccer star Pelé, who never signed for a European club, never won the award, for example. It did not become a global prize until 2007.
And while FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, introduced a women’s world player of the year award in 2001, the Ballon d’Or remained reserved for male players until September, when France Football’s editor announced that the magazine would honor a woman for the first time this year.
“Women’s soccer is a booming discipline that deserves the same respect as men’s soccer,” the editor, Pascal Ferre, told The Associated Press.
A list of 15 finalists was announced in October. The winner was chosen by a group of 40 voters — a different group than the judges for the men’s award. Mr. Ferre said there were different voters because women’s players deserved to be assessed by people who followed them regularly. “Only experts can vote,” he said.
Ms. Hegerberg, who plays for the perennial French champions Olympique Lyon, has spoken up about what she says is a lack of respect for women’s soccer in Norway and has said she won’t play for her home country in the next Women’s World Cup.
But in her acceptance speech on Monday, Ms. Hegerberg had a message for “young girls all over the world.”
“Please,” she said, “believe in yourselves.”
Follow Sarah Mervosh on Twitter: @smervosh