The former Fifa president Sepp Blatter has been accused by Hope Solo, the USA women’s football team goalkeeper, of having sexually assaulted her at Fifa’s Ballon d’Or awards ceremony in January 2013.
In an interview with the Portuguese newspaper Expresso, being published on Saturday, Solo, 36, claimed she “had Sepp Blatter grab my ass” at the glittering presentation of Fifa’s annual football awards for achievement during 2012. Solo presented the Fifa women’s world player of the year award on stage alongside Blatter, to her colleague on the USA team that had won the gold medal at the London Olympics, the striker Abby Wambach.
Blatter, contacted via his spokesman, responded to Solo’s recollection by denying that the incident took place. “This allegation is ridiculous,” he said.
On the official Fifa film of the event, which was hosted by the Dutch football legend Ruud Gullit and the broadcaster Kay Murray, Solo was shown coming on to the stage with Blatter from behind a curtain at the back of the stage, to present the award to Wambach. Talking to Expresso about sexual harassment in general, which Solo says is “rampant” in sport, she claimed Blatter grabbed her behind seconds before they both went on stage: “I had Sepp Blatter grab my ass,” she said. “It was at the Ballon d’Or, right before I went on stage. [Sexual harassment] has been normalised.”
Expanding on the alleged incident on Friday, Solo told the Guardian that she had to compose herself immediately afterwards to concentrate on making her speech and giving the presentation to Wambach. “I was in shock and completely thrown off,” Solo said. “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.”
Solo, the most capped goalkeeper in US football history with 202 appearances, including in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic- and 2015 World Cup-winning teams, spoke out last month about sexual harassment in sport, following the revelations about the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. In an Instagram post Solo congratulated the women who had spoken out and wrote with the #MeToo hashtag: “For the past few days, I have been thinking about all the uncomfortable situations myself and/or my team-mates have experienced throughout the years with trainers, doctors, coaches, executives and even team-mates. From inappropriate comments, unwanted advances and grabs of the ass to coaches and [general managers] and even press officers speaking about players’ ‘tits’ and physical appearance, sexual harassment is rampant in the sports world. I always felt I’d ‘handled it’ and stood up for myself in those situations, but there were never any consequences for the perpetrators. That needs to change. Silence will not change the world!”