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FIFA allows its women’s player of the year award to become a massive joke again

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Two players who had no business being on the shortlist in the first place are now finalists.

Soccer: International Friendly Women's Soccer-Switzerland at USA Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

FIFA announced the finalists for The Best FIFA Football Awards on Friday, and it’s mostly gone how you’d guess. Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar are the finalists for The Best FIFA Men’s Player. The nominees for best coaches, goalkeepers, and goals are perfectly sensible too.

Then there’s The Best FIFA Women's Player, which has continued to be a joke of an award through all its iterations — the FIFA World Player of the Year, the Ballon d’Or, and finally the current monstrosity of a name. The finalists are deserving candidate Lieke Martens, an out-of-form Carli Lloyd, and 18-year-old Deyna Castellanos, who is not yet a professional footballer.

Lloyd and Castellanos are good players who don’t deserve to be criticized for being somewhere short of the absolute top level of the game over the last year, but they’re now in that position because of FIFA’s apathy towards this award.

Any of the semifinalists who did not make the final three — Lucy Bronze, Wendie Renard, Dzsenifer Marozsán, Pernille Harder, Samantha Kerr, Vivianne Miedema, and Jodie Taylor — would have been worthy finalists. Kerr, who has 30 goals and 11 assists between club and international play, is probably the most glaring omission from the final list.

Martens won the Golden Ball at Euro 2017 and will hopefully win The Best FIFA Women's Player as well. Lloyd has four goals and one assist for the Houston Dash and United States in 2017 and did not make the NWSL playoffs in 2016. Castellanos starred at the 2016 Under-17 World Cup, and is now playing college soccer. She has not scored a goal for Venezuela’s senior team.

Making Castellanos’ inclusion more curious is the fact that the Under-17 World Cup shouldn’t have even been considered. According to FIFA’s website, “the women’s awards take into account the period between 20 November 2016 and 6 August 2017.” The Under-17 World Cup concluded on Oct. 21. Both FIFA’s expert nominating panel and final voters seemingly voted for Castellanos based on her performances in a tournament that was outside of the evaluation window, to say nothing of the absurdity of considering youth tournament performances when deciding who should be considered the best player in the world.

If you’re wondering how this happens, it’s because a lot of apathetic people are allowed to vote in the name of making the voting more democratic. Coaches, captains, and select journalists from all of FIFA’s member nations with women’s programs are allowed to vote, which should prevent favoritism or a narrow concentration on players from one part of the world. Unfortunately, what this process actually does is allow people who don’t follow global women’s soccer into the voting pool without any kind of vetting process, turning the vote into one about fame rather than soccer performances. There’s also a fan voting component, and Castellanos has a huge following, which might have been a factor in her becoming a finalist as well.

But the FIFA award for top women’s player has always been like this, regardless of the voting system. Lloyd’s win last year was widely panned, Abby Wambach won the award in a year where she played no club soccer, and Marta was certainly not the most accomplished player in the world for all of the five consecutive years that she won the award. FIFA continues to botch this award because it doesn’t matter to them.

It’s easy to have the attitude of “it’s just a silly award, who cares,” but the men’s player of the year award would never be treated with this level of apathy. If Ronaldinho and Josh Sargent became finalists for the men’s award ahead of Messi and Ronaldo, it would be a massive global scandal, and FIFA would instantly begin the process of overhauling the award’s voting process. But because it’s just women’s soccer, FIFA has no reason to care about getting it right.