Olympic spirit controversies still under spotlight, as US Soccer benches Solo

US National Women's Soccer goaltender Hope Solo has been suspended for six months following disparaging comments she made after the team's quarter-final loss against Sweden. 

Eugenio Savio/AP/File
Goalkeeper Hope Solo takes the ball during a women's Olympic soccer tournament match against New Zealand in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in August. Solo has been suspended from the US Women's National Soccer Team for six months for conducted that US Soccer has described as 'counter to the organization's principles.'

US Soccer served legendary, but often controversial, National Women’s Soccer Team goaltender Hope Solo with a six-month suspension from international play on Wednesday, after she made disparaging comments about another team during the Olympics.

The United States fell to Sweden during the women's quarter-final match, a devastating blow for the team who entered the Games as the defending 2012 Olympic gold medal champions and 2015 World Cup champions. The USWNT has medaled in every Olympics it has participated in until this year.

With the announcement of the suspension, the luster on the 121 medals brought home by the Americans from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games – already overshadowed by the drama surrounding US swimmer Ryan Lochte and three of his teammates – furthered dimmed as another high-profile US athlete was disciplined for uncouth behavior on the international stage. 

"Beyond the athletic arena, and beyond the results, the Olympics celebrate and represent the ideals of fair play and respect," said US Soccer President Sunil Gulati said in a statement explaining Ms. Solo's suspension. "We expect all of our representatives to honor those principles, with no exceptions."

Following the US team's elimination from the semi-finals, after a 4-3 defeat by Sweden in penalty kicks, Solo, widely to be considered the best goal keeper in the world, quipped that "the best team did not win today," calling the Swedish team "a bunch of cowards" during a post-match press conference.

When pressed to elaborate, Solo targeted Sweden's coach Pia Sundhage, who was the USWNT coach from 2008 and 2012, and a veteran of Solo's diatribes.

"They didn't want to pass the ball around. They didn't want to play great soccer, entertaining soccer. It was a combative game, a physical game.... They didn't try and press, they didn't want to open the game and they tried to counter with long balls. We had that style of play when Pia was our coach," she said according to ESPN

Ms. Sundhage shrugged off the comments.

"I'm going to Rio, she's going home," said Sundhage, according to Sports Illustrated. Sundhage had helped the Americans win two Olympic gold medals and a second-place finish at the 2011 World Cup during her tenure with the USWNT. 

Solo previously served a one-game suspension for Twitter comments she made about soccer officials in 2010, one of several verbal clashes against soccer coaches and fans throughout her career.

In 2015, Solo also served a 30-day suspension for a DUI incident involving her husband, former football player Jerramy Stevens, during a USWNT's training camp in California. Earlier that year, a domestic abuse case involving Solo was dismissed in court, where she had pled not guilty.

Solo expressed her disappointment on the ruling in a statement to Sports Illustrated.

"For 17 years, I dedicated my life to the U.S. women's national team and did the job of a pro athlete the only way I knew how," Solo said, "with passion, tenacity, an unrelenting commitment to be the best goalkeeper in the world, not just for my country, but to elevate the sport for the next generation of female athletes. In those commitments, I have never wavered."

A lawyer representing Solo has indicated the suspended athlete would likely appeal on the basis of First Amendment Rights. But at age 35, Solo may be approaching the final days of her career.

Meanwhile, US swimmer Ryan Lochte continues to tread in hot water with his sponsors.

After a confusing series of incidents in Rio, Lochte and three other male US swimmers said they had exaggerated a story about being robbed at gunpoint, as reports emerged that the group may have vandalized a gas station, and misrepresented their ensuing confrontation with security guards. After Lochte returned to the United States, two other swimmers were removed from a flight home. Teammate Jack Feigen donated $11,000 to a Brazilian nonprofit in a settlement in order to leave the country.

"While we have enjoyed a winning relationship with Ryan for over a decade and he has been an important member of the Speedo team, we cannot condone behavior that is counter to the values this brand has long stood for," tweeted the official Speedo USA account. "We value his many achievements and hope he moves forward and learns from this experience."

Three other sponsoring companies have also dropped their contracts with Lochte, the Associated Press reports. 

Although none of the swimmers have been suspended by US Swimming, all four face a disciplinary hearing before the International Olympic Committee.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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