Women's FootballHope Solo, the former goalkeeper for the US women’s soccer team, appeared on Swedish television on Friday night and apologised for her actions during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Why? Solo is rightfully a major female sports star.  She is the most capped goalkeeper in women’s soccer history with 202 national appearances and was a member of the US soccer team that won the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup during which she personally won the Golden Glove as the top goalkeeper (for the second successive World Cup).

However, Solo appeared on Swedish television last week to apologise for calling the Swedish national team ‘a bunch of cowards’ following the US’ (the then defending Olympic champions) loss to the Swedes on penalties during the quarter-finals of the Rio 2016 tournament.  At that time, US Soccer stated that Solo’s behaviour was ’unacceptable and [does] not meet the standard of conduct we require from our national team players’ and suspended her for six months.  It was later widely reported that this suspension had operated to terminate her contract with the national team as there would be a new collective bargaining agreement in place by the time she was eligible to return in February 2017.

The incident at the World Cup is not the first time Solo has appeared in the press for reasons other than her footballing performance:

  • In 2014 Solo was arrested on domestic violence charges as a result of complaints made by her 17 year-old nephew; and
  • In 2015 Solo was suspended by US Soccer after her husband, former NFL star Jerramy Stevens, was arrested for driving under the influence. At that time US Soccer statedHope made a poor decision that has resulted in a negative impact on US Soccer and her teammates… we feel at this time it is best for her to step away from the team’.

However, Solo has also become a pioneer for achieving equality in pay and conditions for the players participating in the US National Women’s Soccer League as compared to their male counterparts in Major League Soccer. In an article on her website, Solo strongly urged the US National Women’s Soccer League to take steps to remedy, amongst other things, salaries, training venues for away matches, the standard of pitches, the facilities at venues, security at games and the fact that the league has, as yet, not fully adopted FIFA’s Rules and Regulations.

Solo is not the solo (sorry) person campaigning for gender equality in US Soccer. In February 2016, US Soccer filed a lawsuit against the US Women’s National Players’ Association (WNPA) over the validity and existence of their collective bargaining agreement (the WNPA had stated in late 2015 that it no longer considered there to be a valid agreement in place and, as such, were free to take strike actions over their pay).  In June 2016, the US District Court ruled in favour of US Soccer and declared that the collective bargaining agreement was valid.  However, in March 2016, five national team players filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of the entire US women’s team in respect of inequalities in their wages and treatment.  The decision in this case has not yet been rendered and is expected to take at least 10 months.

Hope Solo recently announced that she will not return to play for her domestic side, Seattle Reign, and is instead going to be taking some time out from football.  We will have to wait to see if Hope Solo will play football again and whether the US women’s soccer team will be successful in their bid for equal pay.  However, one thing is certain: Hope Solo has, in spite of a number of controversies, been a pioneering figure for women’s football both on and off the pitch and she has left a legacy that will not easily be forgotten.

Sports Shorts has previously written about issues relating to women in sports (linked here) and this author was part of a group of international badminton players who, in 2007, voted for, and successfully achieved, equal prize money for men and women in international badminton tournaments from 2008 onwards.