Monday, February 23, 2009

US Sailing is Ordered to Comply with US Law

ANNAPOLIS, MD, February 22, 2009 – A distinguished hearing panel of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has unanimously held that US Sailing’s protest and redress system violates the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act of 1978. US Sailing was given six months to provide its athletes the right to fair treatment guaranteed by United States law. The panel was appointed by Peter Ueberroth, USOC Chairman, with representatives from five different Olympic sports.

The case resulted from US Sailing’s women’s RS-X Olympic windsurfing trials in October 2007. Annapolis, MD windsurfer Farrah Hall won the trials but was removed as winner by a protest committee appointed by US Sailing after a one-party hearing requested by another competitor, Nancy Rios. Hall has never been accused of any wrongdoing and was not informed of the hearing. Instead US Sailing informed her that she had been replaced as its 2008 Olympic women’s windsurfing representative as she completed her shower after the event.

Farrah Hall sought a fair hearing under US Sailing’s existing rules before losing her right to compete in China but US Sailing refused. She then pursued the action before the USOC.
In its comprehensive 23-page ruling, the panel said: “… this controversy could have been avoided if US Sailing had notified Hall of Rios’ October 14 request for redress, allowed her to participate as a party, and made its determination on evidence submitted by both parties. Instead, US Sailing seemed to have gotten wrapped around its own rules, and the Racing Rules of Sailing, and created a situation in which neither Hall nor Rios was ably served.”

The panel directed US Sailing to bring its rules into compliance with US law and USOC bylaws which guarantee fair treatment to athletes. US Sailing has until September 1 to act or face loss of its status as the National Governing Body for Olympic Sailing. The full text of the panel’s decision is available at:

Hall, who is now training for Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic Games, welcomed the decision. “I am delighted that as a result of this USOC hearing panel decision other athletes will not suffer the same convoluted, expensive and prolonged procedures that US Sailing subjected Nancy Rios and me to. The USOC panel recognized that before a National Governing Body like US Sailing can change the results of an Olympic qualifying event, it has to give all the athletes involved a fair hearing. I really appreciate the support I received through this long process from my sponsor, my advisors John Bertrand and Keith Taylor, and my lawyers at the firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher.”

The panel that issued the decision consisted of: Chairperson Nina Kempel, Athletes Advisory Council, US Ski and Snowboard Association; Scott Fortune, USOC Athletes Advisory Council, USA Volleyball; Bob Mitchell, USOC National Governing Body Council, USA Shooting; Jeanne Picariello, Chair, USOC Multisport Organizations Council; and Ron Van Pool, USOC National Governing Body Council, USA Swimming

Doug Smith, who headed the legal team representing Hall, said, “We were very pleased that the panel agreed with each of our key points:
· An athlete is entitled to a fair hearing before losing the opportunity to compete in the Olympics;
· A one-party hearing which the athlete is not allowed to attend, in front of a protest committee whose members are also witnessing for one of the parties, is not a “fair hearing”;
· The members of any committee that determines the outcome of Olympic Trials must include athletes; and
· The National Governing Body for an Olympic sport such as sailing must comply with the provisions of US law adopted to ensure athletes receive fair treatment. ”
Jamie Dodge Byrnes of Gibson Dunn who presented the oral argument for Farrah Hall to the panel commented: ”The hearing panel has wisely given US Sailing six months to bring their rules into compliance with US law, the same law that all the other National Governing Bodies for Olympic Sports already comply with. We are confident that US Sailing will find a solution that addresses the interests of all of its members including its Olympic aspirants.”

John Bertrand Bertrand Racing, Annapolis, Md Tel: +1 (410) 224-2450 Email