France Football announces Ballon d'Or award for women starting in 2018

A Ballon d'Or for the world's top female footballer will be awarded alongside the traditional men's honour this year, France Football announced.

The prestigious prize has honoured the best male player of the preceding 12 months since 1956. For 2018, a women's award will be handed out along with the men's with a global panel of expert journalists handpicked for each category deciding the winner.

"At a time when the place of women provokes so much societal debate, the arrival of this supreme award is not at all opportunistic," France Football wrote when announcing the initiative.

"It's merely a logical evolution for a discipline that is expanding rapidly. It's a boom that can be seen in the emergence of a number of clubs which are increasingly well structured, the number of registered players, TV audiences, and crowds."

A 15-strong shortlist will be announced on L'Equipe TV on Oct. 8 at the same time as the 30 names in contention for the men's award.

"The birth of the Ballon d'Or is a step further in the evolution of our sport, which is progressing well," France international and Lyon star Wendie Renard told the magazine. "It's a step forward. Women's football is progressing and the inequalities are being reduced even if there is still progress to be made."

"I have always wanted to see a woman win this prestigious award," said Brazilian icon Marta, who has been named FIFA World Player of the Year five times.

"It's a step forward towards greater equality to see such an award, which is so important in the world of football, also be given to female players."

The winners of the men's and women's awards will be announced on Dec 3.

France Football also announced the creation of the Trophee Kopa, named after former Ballon d'Or winner Raymond Kopa, a member of the great Reims and Real Madrid teams of the 1950s and 60s, who died last year.

The award will be given to the world's best under-21 player, and will be voted for by the previous Ballon d'Or winners, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho.