On Wednesday, October 21, 1998, Senator Ted Stevens' (R-AK) much awaited amendments to the original Amateur Sports Act (ASA), PL 95-606 (1978), were passed by Congress as a part of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill. Readers will remember the Editor's Corner in the Fall issue of PALAESTRA (14:4, 4-5) appropriately entitled, A Coming Of Age--Sports For The Disabled And The Amateur Sports Act.
Hailed by many as historic, landmark legislation for athletes with disabilities, the new bill amended the original with provisions reflecting the growth of competition by athletes with disabilities within Olympic and amateur athletic programs, and ensured the continued development of sport opportunities for individuals With disabilities--or so this editor thought at the time. The amendments sponsored by Senator Stevens renamed the Act--Olympic and Amateur Sports Act--to account for participation of professional athletes in some Olympic sports. More importantly, during the previous two years, following both the Olympic and Paralympic Games held in Atlanta in 1996, and leading up to passage of the Act, the amendments were thought to reflect a consensus developed from dialogue garnered amongst Disability Sport Organizations (DSO--within the USOC), athletes, Olympic sport National Governing Bodies (NGB--within the USOC), and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) leadership to reform existing approaches, amongst other things, for developing programs and athletes destined for the International Paralympic Games. At least there was the initial outward appearance of consensus.
According to the Senator, the Act had provisions to help everyone in the Olympic family--from the athletes, to the NGBs, to the DSOs, to the USOC, to other individuals and organizations under the USOC umbrella. The measure gave athletes more certainty about their rights, while at the same time affording the USOC improved authority to resolve disputes, especially those which might arise prior to Olympic Games, and allowed the USOC to remove to federal court lawsuits against it.
The Act was thought to more fully incorporate the Paralympics, clearly attempting to reflect equal status for athletes with disabilities. It continued the original focus of the Act to integrate sports for those with disabilities within sports provided by the NGBs; however, because some sports for athletes with disabilities are, indeed, unique, it allowed the USOC to recognize Paralympic sports organizations if integration did not serve their best interests, or if an NGB objected to integration. Unbeknownst to most, this provision evidently was the wolf in sheep's clothing! In Subchapter II - National Governing Bodies, #220522, under Eligibility Requirements, Section (15 - b) Recognition of Paralympic Sports Organizations states--
For any sport which is included on the program of the Paralympic Games, the corporation (USOC) is authorized to designate, where feasible and when such designation would serve the best interest of the sport, and with the approval of the affected national governing body, a national governing body recognized under subsection (a) to govern such sport. Where such designation is not feasible or would not serve the best interest of the sport, the corporation is authorized to recognize another amateur sports organization as a Paralympic sports organization to govern such sport, except that, notwithstanding the other requirements of this chapter, any such Paralympic sports organization--
(1) shall comply only with those requirements, perform those duties, and have those powers that the corporation, in its sole discretion, determines are appropriate to meet the objectives and purposes of this chapter; and
(2) may, with the approval of the corporation, govern more than one sport included on the program of the Paralympic Games.
Seeds for this section were evidently sown during that all too crucial period leading up to final passage of the Act--especially during a hearing before the Senate Subcommittee charged with revisions for the Amateur Sports Act in its meeting in Colorado Springs. …