I have been the CEO of USATT for well over a year now, and in order to promote fairness as well as clarity and transparency with respect to our organization’s goals and processes, I will from time to time offer my opinions on issues of importance to our members. Because there has been an outpouring of thought and emotion among some as to the selection procedures for our national teams, I want to share my thoughts as well. I have considered this issue deeply and for a long time, and I have spoken with and listened to many of you – athletes, coaches, and parents. USATT was involved in a legal proceeding on this issue in the past year as well.
USATT’s mission is “to provide resources that enable athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence and pursue Olympic and Paralympic success" While we are most certainly committed to assisting our elite athletes – both able-bodied and para – in their careers, our mission is a broader one. Therefore, USATT’s procedures and actions must remain consistent with its mission to provide support for all of our athletes, not solely those who compete on the world stage.
USATT’s High Performance Committee is similarly tasked to “approve selection procedures or other policies as needed for national teams and international events, or the operation of the High- Performance Program.” In other words, the HPC’s responsibility isn’t to determine who the best players are; it is to devise a plan to produce the best players possible, and to work with USATT staff to design programs to do so.
It is critical that we ensure that our stated mission is supported fairly and consistently, and that the mission drive our priorities and strategies. Even if USATT had a more limited mission -- say our mission was solely to compete internationally against teams from China, Japan, Germany and others – we would still need to ensure fairness, clarity, transparency and security to our athletes in doing so. And we would need to build the infrastructure to support that focused mission, including a national training center and a robust coaching program. We would also need to procure the funding to make this all happen.
Among those interested in these determinations are the HPC, the HPD, National Team coaches, and, most important, the athletes themselves. The questions that arise are critical and are fraught with complexity and emotion. How much discretion should be involved in the selections? To whom should such discretion be afforded? Should selections be made based on world rankings alone? How much weight should be given to world rankings since that not all of our athletes are able to compete in events that award world ranking points? Should some or all players with world rankings still have to compete for spots on the national teams against other athletes? Given USATT’s stated mission, there remains the question as to who should determine the selection procedures used to place athletes on our national teams. Our Bylaws say that the HPC is responsible for selection procedures, and also say that the Board of Directors bears the ultimate responsibility for reviewing committee actions.
We absolutely must continue to support our top athletes who compete for world rankings. My view is that our doing so does not have to essentially penalize our top athletes who have chosen a different athletic path for themselves. In the United States, our elite athletes have choices to make to further their educations and their playing careers, and we should honor those choices and be as fair to everyone as we can possibly be.
As the National Governing Body for our sport, we must develop a fair selection process that allows all of our elite athletes the opportunity to compete for and pursue their Olympic and Paralympic dreams. In my opinion, this selection process should not give undue weight to world rankings, USATT ratings, age, or individual coaches’ preferences. As I mentioned at the outset, many athletes brought an action against USATT to ensure that its selection process would ensure fairness by allowing them to compete against one another to determine their opportunities rather than their being subject to the discretion of a select few. Competition assures that everyone has a fair opportunity to determine his or her own fate.
On a final note, I am sorry for the confusion surrounding the publication of the minutes. We have very experienced outside counsel who are trying to help us honor best practices ever since the USOPC nearly revoked our status as an NGB, and minutes are not supposed to include all the communications that a committee relies on (for very good reasons). In addition, there is no such thing as “unanimous consent” to approve minutes under our Bylaws or corporate law in the way the HPC acted. I know that it does not look good when our attorney advised us to withdraw unapproved, improper minutes, and with the materials spreading around the internet it ends up not making any difference. We will continue to strive to do things the right way legally and toward best nonprofit practices.
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