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A World Cup winner with 1.1 million Twitter followers, but RTÉ’s newest pundit has a controversial past

RTÉ presenter Darragh Maloney was among those to hail the recruitment of ex-USA international Hope Solo to the panel.

Hope Solo during US Soccer's Annual General Meeting (AGM) at the Renaissance Orlando last February.
Hope Solo during US Soccer's Annual General Meeting (AGM) at the Renaissance Orlando last February.
Image: Roy K. Miller

FROM OSSIE ARDILES to Brad Friedel, RTÉ can often be relied upon to include at least one slightly left-of-field choice for its major tournament coverage.

This year’s World Cup is no exception, with Hope Solo undoubtedly the most eye-catching name of all those who were confirmed today as being part of the station’s pre and post-match analysis.

In addition to being a legend of US soccer, with over 200 appearances in goal for the US soccer team, two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup triumph in 2015, Solo’s past has not been without controversy.

In 2014, she was arrested and charged with two misdemeanor counts of assault in the fourth degree — against her nephew and half-sister respectively.

A lengthy legal battle ensued and the charges were finally dropped last month.

In 2016, US Soccer suspended Solo for six months and terminated her national team contract, citing her misdemeanour, after the goalkeeper described Sweden as playing like “a bunch of cowards,” though according to Sports Illustrated journalist Grant Wahl, the punishment was due to  “an accumulation of things over time” rather than purely the disparaging remarks made about the Swedish side.

Solo, meanwhile, hit back at the federation, suggesting the suspension stemmed from the prominent role she has played in the campaign for US female soccer stars to receive equal pay to their male counterparts, with team-mate Megan Rapinoe making similar claims.

It was the second time she had been suspended, having previously been punished for an incident in 2015, after her husband — ex-NFL tight end Jerramy Stevens — was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence in a US Soccer-owned vehicle. Solo was a passenger in the vehicle, and was subsequently suspended for 30 days following the incident.

The 36-year-old also made an unsuccessful bid for the US Soccer Presidency last February, finishing fifth, while criticising the man who emerged victorious, previous federation vice-president Carlos Cordeiro, in a pre-election speech.

I was a player for nearly 20 years and I saw first hand what Carlos Cordeiro’s idea of change is,” she said. “You cannot as a vice-president claim you are the lone voice of change while all of this happened under your watch.”

She continued: “In 2015, as the best goalkeeper in the world, I had to play 23 games, win a World Cup and win the Golden Glove, only to make $40,000 less than Tim Howard, who only had to play eight games and win nothing in his World Cup year.

“[Cordeiro] was part of a federation that could have been the first to pay its women equally. Instead that honour goes to Norway, while the US women, the most successful team ever, has to force it through the court system. He was part of the same federation that time and time again approved unsafe playing conditions for the women and who still play on turf, while the men play on grass.

“He was part of a federation that thinks it’s acceptable for a player in the NWSL to make less than $10,000 a year and have to take a second or third job just to fulfill her dream of being a professional athlete.

He was part of the same federation that leaves me with no health insurance, no retirement of any kind, after serving my country as the best in the world for 20 years. For 10 years, Carlos Cordeiro was in a position to create change, and he did nothing. He failed me, he failed my teammates and he failed the women of the NWSL.”

Yet this colourful and often controversial background has not put off RTÉ, with Solo certainly not expected to be shy to offer an honest opinion as part of the station’s analysis.

Speaking at the launch of RTÉ’s World Cup coverage today, presenter Darragh Maloney hailed the recruitment of Solo as a major coup.

“Hope Solo’s a massive world star, so it’s a big deal for RTÉ to have her for the tournament,” he said

“Jacqui [Hurley]’s well used to presenting major programmes and she was part of the Euro 2016 team, so again we’re very lucky to have Jacqui on board and Peter [Collins]. We’re all set, we’re ready to go I think.”

It will not be the first time a female pundit has analysed a high-profile men’s sports event on Irish television. Ex-Ireland international Fiona Steed was part of TV3′s coverage for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, with the station receiving plenty of praise for breaking ground in this area.

Solo, meanwhile, will be the first female analyst to appear as part of RTÉ’s men’s soccer coverage of a major tournament. Does Maloney feel this initiative represents progress?

“Yeah sure,” he says, before adding: “It’s hard to know what would happen in the past. When you’ve someone in Hope Solo’s category and the sort of star that she is, when RTÉ are able to sign her up for the tournament, you’ve got to jump at these opportunities.

She has a huge, global presence. I was looking the other day, on Twitter — she has over 1.1 million followers.

“She is a global star. She’s known absolutely everywhere. And I’m dying to work with her. I know Peter [Collins] and Jacqui are as well.”

But not everyone is entirely happy with the team that RTÉ announced, it seems.

Ex-Ireland international Emma Byrne, who has worked with the station as part of their coverage for women’s soccer before, tweeted “disappointing” in reaction to today’s news.

The42 reached out to Byrne in attempt for her to clarify the remark but did not receive a response at the time of publication.

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Paul Fennessy

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