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Nina Derwael beats Emma Meesseman for the 2019 Belgian Female Athlete of the Year award

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Being a WNBA Finals MVP isn’t enough, even when that award was won in spite of systematic disadvantages Europeans have with the schedule.

49th FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships - Day Nine
Nina Derwael is Belgium’s Female Athlete of the Year, beating out Emma Meesseman in what many basketball fans would call an upset.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

This year has been Washington Mystics forward Emma Meesseman’s year for the most part. She won a WNBA championship in D.C. and is the Finals MVP. She won regional awards in Flanders, the part of Belgium she’s from.

But it wasn’t enough for her to win the Female Athlete of the Year Award.

On Saturday, gymnast Nina Derwael won the award for the second consecutive year, winning 1,077 points while Meesseman had 907. Hepthathlete Nafi Thiam was third with 667 points. A group of Belgian journalists decide who wins the award.

Congratulations to Derwael for her victory. But for basketball in the country, this is a stinging blow. So ... why would some journalists vote for Derwael over Meesseman?

Here are three reasons why:

Belgium arguably under-performed in FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2019

After a rapid rise in Europe and the world from 2017 to 2018, some were bullish on Belgium realistically winning Women’s EuroBasket this year. Ultimately, they lost in the quarterfinals to France, who won the silver medal. Belgium finished fifth with a 3-3 record. While this record keeps the Cats’ Olympic hopes alive, it is still a decline from 2017 in absolute terms.

Meesseman played as a reserve to Elena Delle Donne on the Mystics

The WNBA schedule works against Meesseman, which I’ve said enough times on this site. With Meesseman playing in European competition, she couldn’t be utilized as much as she could have for the Mystics in the regular season. Simply put, Meesseman’s maroon Belgian and European Union passport is why she didn’t start most games for Washington this year — and why she was Delle Donne’s backup.

What I find ironic about this is that perhaps some Belgian journalists used Meesseman’s disadvantages in the WNBA against her. Wow.

As much as I would have liked to see Meesseman start, that wasn’t the best interest for the team in light of the international calendar. And now, that is used against her.

Let’s be fair to Derwael. She was a world champion for something in 2019 as well.

Let’s also acknowledge that Derwael had a hell of a year herself. She won the Gold Medal on the uneven bars in the World Championships and also won the Gold Medal in the European champions for the balance beam.

In women’s basketball, the closest thing to a world championship THIS YEAR was a WNBA title or a FIBA EuroLeague Women championship. Meesseman was on both of those teams with the Mystics and UMMC Ekaterinburg, respectively. But she wasn’t the regular season MVP in the WNBA nor EuroLeague Women. And Meesseman’s WNBA Finals MVP award wasn’t enough for the journalists.


I’m sure Meesseman will congratulate Derwael and all. But for basketball fans in Belgium, the Benelux (which includes the Netherlands and Luxembourg) and even here in Washington, D.C., this is a disappointment.

I guess there’s always next year. But we now know that for Meesseman to win the award this time, she’ll have to be the 2020 WNBA regular season MVP, Finals MVP AND win an Olympic gold medal with the Belgian women’s national team. Man, I’m disappointed.