As reported by the Guardian, in an upcoming interview with Portuguese newspaper Expresso, Hope Solo says Sepp Blatter sexually assaulted her at the 2013 Fifa Ballon d’Or ceremony when she “had Sepp Blatter grab my ass.” Solo said they were about to go out on stage to present the women’s player of the year award, which Abby Wambach won for her achievements in 2012, and that she 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,” said Solo.
Solo also goes on to call out inappropriate relationships she has witnessed at various levels in soccer. “Female players date and end up marrying their college coaches, which obviously a coach should not be doing, especially with a young player,” she said. “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.”
Sepp Blatter is no stranger to sexism. Who can forget his infamous 2004 suggestion that female players wear “tighter shorts” to create “a more female aesthetic.” He’s demonstrated several times he never really paid much attention to the women’s game either, like the time he mixed up Abby Wambach’s ex-wife Sarah Huffman and Brazilian superstar Marta or didn’t know who Alex Morgan was in 2012 when she was being honored as one of the top three players in the world.
And Solo is definitely not wrong about other men in power abusing that power - just see the recent grossness with former England head coach Mark Sampson, who was fired because he “overstepped the professional boundaries between player and coach” when he was at Bristol Academy. (He should have been fired for the racism he directed at players too.)
See also Dan Borislow and magicJack; it’s well-documented how Borislow abused and harassed certain players until Women’s Professional Soccer collapsed. There’s also UNC head coach Anson Dorrance, who was sued for sexual harassment by two players in 1998 and settled the case in 2008, in which he apologized to players for “inappropriate discussions of a sexual nature.”
It’s not just men in power; head coaches and administrators and team owners don’t suddenly become sexist once they’re in a position of authority. Sexist and misogynist attitudes towards women are built over a lifetime, like when Harvard canceled their entire men’s soccer season after it was revealed male players engaged in vulgar and sexually explicit “reports” on female players. Or the time the Washington University men’s team got suspended when some of the players made “degrading and sexually explicit” comments about the women’s team.
Soccer is not exempt from the conditions that lend themselves to harassment and abuse: insular, male-dominated, and easy to punish and freeze out those who would dare speak. Look at the backlash that Debbie Keller and Melissa Jennings received for speaking up about Dorrance. Keller got a $70k settlement in 2004 and Jennings $385k in 2008, 10 years after the original complaint - hardly set-you-up-for-life stuff. It came at the cost of their personal relationships and any possible future career in the sport. Meanwhile, Dorrance is still one of the most venerated names in the women’s game and has been head coach of UNC for nearly 40 years now.
For herself, Solo said she didn’t confront Blatter over it because she prefers direct confrontation and never got the chance to say her piece to Blatter’s face. “I’m actually very disappointed with the women who haven’t spoken about it in the sports world,” she said. “I wish more women, especially in football, would speak against it, about the experiences, because some of those people still work [in football].”
Direct confrontation is fine as Solo’s individual choice, but for others is it really so hard to imagine that a female player wouldn’t feel like she had the power and support to confront the head of FIFA? That a teenager wouldn’t feel like she could speak up against her adult coach? That a player wouldn’t be able to say no to a team doctor? Consider this from USA gymnast Aly Raisman, who says she was abused by former team doctor Larry Nassar: “Why are we looking at why didn't the girls speak up? Why not look at what about the culture? What did USA Gymnastics do, and Larry Nassar do, to manipulate these girls so much that they are so afraid to speak up?”
Everyone “knew” about Sepp Blatter. Multiple people in power “knew” about Mark Sampson. How long did they stay in power? What herculean effort and overwhelming weight of public opinion did it take to create the critical mass to oust them? Blatter and Borislow weren’t even kicked out of the game for their sexism; Blatter got caught up in the larger 2015 FIFA corruption case and WPS fought with Borislow over his refusal to adhere to league operating standards and was willing to hear him make his case even after the WPS Players Union filed a grievance against him for inappropriate conduct towards players. What person could look at that power imbalance and think they would get anything but pain and rejection from the people who could supposedly protect them? Those people are too busy protecting the existing power structure.