Adding her name to the mounting list of women alleging sexual assault at the hands of powerful men, USA goalkeeper Hope Solo sent shockwaves across the football fraternity after accusing former FIFA president Sepp Blatter of sexually assaulting her during FIFA’s Ballon d’Or awards ceremony in 2013.
In an explosive interview with Portuguese newspaper Expresso, the 36-year-old claimed that “Sepp Blatter grabbed her ass” right before she walked onto the stage alongside him to present the FIFA women’s world player of the year award to her teammate and USA’s women’s football team striker Abby Wambach.
“Sepp Blatter grabbed my ass, it was a few years ago at the Ballon d’Or ceremony just before I got on stage,” Solo told the Expresso. While speaking to the Guardian, the standout US goalie elaborated on the incident: “I was in shock and completely thrown off. I had to quickly pull myself together to present my team-mate with the biggest award of her career and celebrate with her in that moment, so I completely shifted my focus to Abby”.
While Solo revealed her ordeal, there were noticeable comments that neither sounded right nor properly fit in. Blatter did manage to get the headline in her story, but she doesn’t really pull any punches further down in her revelation, which is pretty unlike the Solo we all know.
Missing The Premise
In her remarks to the Portuguese newspaper, Solo claims: “For years, in the past, female players date and end up marrying their college coaches, which obviously a coach should not be doing, especially with a young player. I’ve seen it not just with coaches. I’ve seen it with trainers, doctors and our press officers. I’ve seen it amongst players in the locker room. It’s rampant”.
Now, to put things in perspective, Tarana Burke’s #MeToo campaign was created to raise awareness of sexual violence experienced by – but not limited to – women through personal testimony. And, after it turned Hollywood upside down while contributing to a growing consciousness of the issues faced by women, it is now taking the world of sports by storm.
But, more importantly, it’s there to highlight the plight of those who have suffered at the hands of the mighty and powerful. So when Solo says that a player shouldn’t date or marry their coach, she’s not just straying away from the point, but also sends a wrong message. For instance, if a player and a coach have a consensual relationship and eventually a good marriage, what’s the problem?
Just because some low-life pervert touched an athlete inappropriately during training, does that mean every coach or every member of the support staff shouldn’t date, marry or have any relationship (other than professional) with the player, even if theirs is consensual? It’s the fundamental power disparity governing the relationship between aspiring athletes and elite coaches that creates the precondition for sexual harassment, not love.
Heights of Hypocrisy
After missing the premise of the whole debate, Solo then goes on to express her disappointment with the women who have not spoken about it in the sports world. “I’m actually very disappointed with the women who haven’t spoken about it in the sports world. I wish more women, especially in football, would speak against it, about the experiences, because some of those people still work (in football),” she said.
But, wait, why is she disappointed with those who didn’t speak up earlier? Is she any different from them? While she wished there were more women who would speak against the issue, Solo herself took more than four years to reveal the details of her sexual assault story at the hands of Blatter. Why aren’t we surprised?
Reeks Of An Opportunist
When asked why she had not spoken about the incident before, Solo reveals she has her personal way of dealing with it (which, given the circumstances, makes perfect sense). “I speak out directly (with people) when things like that happen. In other cases, for instance, I’ve told my teammates: ‘Don’t ever fucking touch me! Don’t do it’. It has been in the showers, it’s been in the locker room. I usually speak directly to the person.
In the case of Sepp Blatter, I went on the stage, I was nervous about the presentation. It was the Ballon d’Or I was presenting. After that, I didn’t see him and that was kind of bad. I didn’t get to tell him directly ‘Don’t ever touch me!’ That’s the way I’ve always handled things. Directly,” she claimed.
While it’s surely her personal way of dealing with things, Solo’s explosive revelations, unfortunately, reeks of an opportunist. For more than four years, she didn’t see Blatter and hence couldn’t tell him not to touch her again. But, going against her personal mechanism to deal with it, she conveniently hops on the sexual harassment exposure train with her own groping story.
For anyone who has known Solo all these years, they will all agree that the stand-out American goalie has had her equal share controversies alongside her degrading success. In 2014, she was arrested in a domestic violence case where she assaulted her half-sister and young nephew during a family gathering.
Her tweet over the Zika virus made her the most-hated athlete at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Following a loss to Sweden at the Olympics, Solo flouted every rule in the book when she slammed their opponents while claiming “we played a bunch of cowards”. Her comments attracted a six-month suspension from the national team.
But, we did not list out her controversies to say that she is lying, nor do we claim that an absolute disgrace such as Blatter couldn’t do something like that. There is no doubt that her troublesome past should not overshadow her recent claims. But, since she did not report it before and now there is absolutely no way of validating her claim, the entire reason of shaming powerful men (and also women) for sexual assault seems lost.
We are neither feminists, nor we’re trying to be misogynists here. As the revelations get more explosive, perpetrators more prominent and victims absolutely devastated, we should expect to hear more stories like these and we should expect to feel more outrage in the times ahead.
But, if we’re not dealing with this on the question of policy, we are doomed to more of the same!