Olympic Committee to Study Changes in Law Governing Amateur Athletics
Mar. 18, 1994
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The U.S. Olympic Committee, embarrassed by the Tonya Harding affair, will form a task force to suggest changes in the federal law that governs amateur athletics in the United States before the 1996 Summer Olympics, USOC President LeRoy Walker said Friday.
Some USOC members had sought to suspend the 23-year-old Harding from the U.S. team at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, last month. A planned disciplinary hearing in Oslo, Norway, was canceled after Harding filed a $25 million lawsuit against the USOC and then dropped it the night the games started.
Harding pleaded guilty Wednesday to a felony count of conspiring to hinder the prosecution in the Jan. 6 incident in which rival skater Nancy Kerrigan was hit in the knee with a collapsible metal baton.
''Never in life again'' does the committee want to be put in that situation, Walker said in an interview as the USOC opened a three-day meeting here of its executive council and board of directors.
''We have to have this thing resolved before the Atlanta games,'' he said of the legal wrangling that left the USOC chagrinned after Harding's plea. ''If you think we had problems in other places, in this country it would be a nightmare.''
Walker and USOC Executive Director Harvey Schiller met Friday with Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the chief author of the 1978 Amateur Sports Act, which gives the committee jurisdiction over U.S. Olympians, but only after they are members of the team.
That law, the first comprehensive legislation governing amateur athletics in the United States, was prompted by embarrassing incidents at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany - including a controversial loss by the U.S. basketball team to the Soviet Union's team, a swimmer forfeiting a gold medal because of using a banned drug and some American runners failing to qualify because they were given the wrong starting time for their trials.
Since then, however, sports have changed dramatically. Professionals in basketball and five other sports are now allowed in Olympic competition, multimillion-dollar endorsements and advertising contracts are at stake, and athletes and their attorneys are showing an increasing willingness to challenge the USOC and other governing bodies in the courts.
''With the kinds of things that are developing - changes in society, the rise of professional sports, a lot of other things - we are learning now that the generalizations (in the 1978 law) are not enough to rely on,'' Walker said. ''There needs to be some refining of the language.''
While only a refinement of the law may be needed, Walker said he would direct the task force of legal and sports experts to look at virtually every aspect of the rising commercialism of athletics, its media saturation and its place in society.
''I don't think anything should be off limits,'' he said. ''Once they start looking at each of the issues, there's probably going to be a lot of things that we haven't even thought about yet.''
He acknowledges the task will be difficult. The 1978 law involved a fight between the NCAA and the Amateur Athletics Union over which would control amateur athletics in the United States. Now that even the word ''amateur'' is a misnomer, the problem is more acute, Walker said.