A permanent ban introduced against two-time Olympic taekwondo champion Steven Lopez has been overturned by an arbitrator after a lack of evidence was found to justify the United States Centre for SafeSport’s conclusion that he sexually abused a child.
Lopez, who is also a five-time world champion, was originally declared permanently ineligible for sport in September.
At the time SafeSport said there was a “preponderance of evidence” that he sexually abused family friend and fellow taekwondo athlete Nina Zampetti when she was 14.
It was alleged Lopez had groomed Zampetti after she and her family moved in next door in 1998 when she was 10, by buying her presents, holding her hand and having her sit on his lap.
Zampetti claimed the relationship became sexual four years later.
Lopez has always denied the allegations and the ban was overturned yesterday following an arbitration hearing.
“He had been sanctioned for life based on a set of allegations,” Lopez’s attorney Howard Jacobs has been quoted as saying by USA Today.
“Those allegations were not proven, and so he’s no longer under any sanction.”
The decision was announced by arbitrator Jeff Kaplan, who said in explanation that SafeSport had “failed to prove” that Lopez had groomed and sexually abused Zampetti, who is now in her 30's.
Lopez reportedly brought five witnesses to the arbitration hearing in Houston last week, while SafeSport’s sole witness was their investigator.
Zampetti herself did not testify.
"I declined to be questioned by SafeSport because I don’t believe they are here to help us,” USA Today quote her as saying.
"They are only trying to help themselves.
"If I would have answered those questions, I believe they still would have lifted the ban.
“I will just give my statement in real court when the day comes.”
Both Steven and his brother Jean Lopez who worked as a taekwondo coach, have been under investigation for sexual misconduct for the last three years, first by USA Taekwondo and then by SafeSport.
SafeSport declared Jean Lopez permanently ineligible back in April after finding he had committed violations of sexual misconduct and sexual misconduct involving a minor.
That permanent ban has since been rescinded, however, and Jean is under an interim restriction instead.
Zampetti though, is not the only woman to accuse Steven of wrongdoing.
He was initially accused of sexual misconduct by Mandy Meloon, a bronze medallist at the World Championships in 1997 and 2005, and Amber Means, a former member of the junior national team.
Meloon said she and Steven Lopez dated on and off for six years.
In 2004, after a physical confrontation at Lopez's parents' home, Meloon said Steven followed her to her flat, broke in through a window and sexually assaulted her.
Meloon said he also physically assaulted her on several occasions.
Meloon and Means have joined two other women in filing a lawsuit against the Lopez brothers, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), USA Taekwondo and SafeSport.
They allege they were victims of a "sex trafficking" operation, claiming the USOC and USA Taekwondo knew the Lopez brothers were "sexual predators" yet continued to send young women with them to camps and competitions across the world.
Zampetti is not part of that case, while Lopez denies any wrongdoing.