Olympic taekwondo champion banned for life in abuse case
Two-time Olympic taekwondo champion Steven Lopez has been handed a life ban by the US Center for SafeSport following an allegation of sexual misconduct, it was confirmed on Friday.
Lopez has been deemed “permanently ineligible” from future competition in a ruling made by the center on Thursday following a four-month investigation.
No other information was immediately available.
The 39-year-old, a gold medalist at both the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games, had been suspended since May. His brother Jean, a coach on the US Olympic taekwondo team, had already been banned for life for sexual offenses.
Steven Lopez could yet appeal his suspension, the center said on its website. The Houston Chronicle newspaper reported that the offense which prompted his ban involved a 14-year-old girl in 2000 when he was 22.
He reportedly began “grooming” the girl for abuse when she was 10 years old, the report cited investigators as saying.
The suspension comes after four women athletes sued the US Olympic Committee and USA Taekwondo for sex trafficking in a federal lawsuit filed in May.
The women alleged they were forced to train and travel with known sexual predators.
Heidi Gilbert, Mandy Meloon, Amber Means and Gaby Joslin alleged they suffered “two decades of sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking of Team USA’s Olympic taekwondo athletes by the entities, officials, coaches and mentors who were entrusted to protect them.”
Both Jean Lopez and Steven Lopez were named in the lawsuit.
Meloon, a two-time world champion, claimed in a 2007 complaint she was raped by Jean at the 1997 World Cup in Egypt when she was 15. She was left off Jean’s 2007 squad, pressing her case to USOC arbitration.
Gilbert said Jean had sexually assaulted her after events in Ecuador in 2002 and Germany in 2003.
The lawsuit says women who wanted onto the US taekwondo team “had no choice but to submit to the Lopez brothers’ sexual demands.”
If they refused to do so, they were benched, suspended or kicked off Team USA by the Lopez brothers.