AAA Arbitration & Olympic Sports

By Zuckerman, Susan; Hauptly, Matthew | Dispute Resolution Journal, August-October 2008 | Go to article overview

AAA Arbitration & Olympic Sports


Zuckerman, Susan, Hauptly, Matthew, Dispute Resolution Journal


Arbitration and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) have a long history together. Since at least 1978, when the Amateur Sports Act (ASA) was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter,1 the American Arbitration Association (AAA) has been the designated organization to administer the resolution of several different kinds of sports disputes, most notably those alleging that an athlete has been denied an opportunity to participate on the U.S. Team for the Olympics. In addition, the AAA is also designated by the United State Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to administer disputes arising out of doping violations.

Since winning an Olympic Gold Medal is perhaps the highest honor an athlete can achieve-one that can open the door to many commercial opportunities- the stakes are high for the athletes who claim their "participation rights" have been violated because Summer and Winter Olympic Games are held but once every four years.

This article discusses this history and the AAA arbitration processes that are mandated to resolve Olympic and other sports-related disputes.

The Ted Stevens Act

An athlete's right to participate in the Olympics is protected by federal law. The ASA originally protected these rights. This statute made the USOC the coordinating body for amateur athletic activity in the United States and the representative of the United States in connection with the Olympic and Pan-American Games.2 The ASA was amended in 1998 and renamed the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, after Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. The Ted Stevens Act continued the governance structure created in the ASA for amateur sports and continued to place all matters pertaining to U.S. participation in the Olympics and Pan- American Games in the hands of the USOC.2 It also gave the USOC responsibility for the Paralympics.3 The USOC's responsibility for these competitions includes training, developing, and selecting the members of the U.S. Teams.4

The drafters of the Ted Stevens Act recognized that the participation rights of athletes could be violated, so they decided to require the USOC to protect them. Thus, one of the USOC's purposes specified in the Act is "to provide swift resolution of conflicts and disputes involving amateur athletes, national governing bodies and amateur sports organizations, and protect the opportunity of any amateur athlete to participate in amateur athletic competition."5 (Emphasis added.)

Moreover, the Ted Stevens Act mandates that the USOC establish and maintain provisions in its constitution and bylaws for "the swift and equitable resolution of disputes involving any of its members and relating to the opportunity of an amateur athlete to participate in the Olympics, the Paralympics, Pan American Games [and] world championship competitions ...."6

The USOC implemented these requirements in Section 9 of its bylaws.7 Section 9 expressly states that no member of the USOC may deny or threaten to deny any athlete the opportunity to participate in the Olympics or the other specified competitions.8 It also requires the USOC to protect "by all reasonable" means the opportunity to participate if selected (or to attempt to qualify). 9

Statutory Arbitration Requirements

There are two places in the Ted Stevens Act that designate AAA arbitration to resolve disputes and both involve entities called national governing bodies. NGBs are amateur sports organizations recognized by the USOC,10 which are delegated the responsibility for developing athletes in their respective sports. NGBs conduct competitions and recommend to the USOC athletes and teams to represent the United States in the Olympics, the Paralympic Games and the Pan-American Games. They also designate athletes to represent the United States in other international amateur sports competitions.11

The Ted Stevens Act authorizes the USOC to recognize as an NGB one "eligible" amateur sports organization for each sport on the Olympic Program. …

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