Dispute Resolution

ATHLETE GUIDE TO RESOLUTION OF OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC  DISPUTES

All USOC-recognized sport organizations have dispute resolution processes and most disputes can be handled directly with the National Governing Body (NGB). Based on the mandates of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act (The Sports Act), there are certain rights and protections afforded to athletes and additional processes in place in the event resolution within the NGB is not satisfactory.

The three main types of issues that arise between athletes and their NGB include:

  • Denial of an athlete’s right to participate in protected competition
  • NGB non-compliance with the USOC Bylaws or The Sports Act
  • Other Grievances and Disputes (e.g., code of conduct/ethics violations not involving a suspension, non-protected competition issues, challenges to a NGB rule, etc.)
Note: All anti-doping issues are resolved through separate processes administered by USADA, WADA, or the IF.
Note: For SafeSport issues, check the specific NGB rules. Until the Center for SafeSport is operating, each NGB has its own SafeSport policies and procedures and will handle situations accordingly.

The Athlete Ombudsman is available to assist athletes at any stage of the grievance process. This many include confidential advice to the athlete, facilitating communication between the parties involved, mediation assistance, or guidance regarding informal or formal grievance options.

Informal Resolution. For any the three types of issues listed above, athletes may seek informal resolution to their dispute prior to filing a formal complaint, or at any stage during a formal grievance process. This can happen by direct conversation/negotiation with the NGB, engaging with AAC representatives, and/or mediation assistance from the Athlete Ombudsman.

Formal Grievance Procedures. If a dispute cannot be resolved informally, or an athlete does not wish to pursue informal resolution, athletes have the right to file a formal complaint. The processes for the different types of disputes are outlined and further explained below:

Denial of an athlete’s right to participate in protected competition

Process: Complaint with NGB (optional) --> Section 9 complaint with USOC (necessary in order to go to arbitration) --> Arbitration Demand with AAA

Under Section 9 of the USOC Bylaws, no member of the USOC may deny or threaten to deny an athlete the opportunity to participate in the Olympic Games, Pan American Games, Paralympic Games, a World Championship competition, or other such protected competition, as defined within the USOC Bylaws.   

An athlete who believes that s/he has been denied this right may file a complaint with the NGB and proceed through their internal grievance process. The athlete may also file a Section 9 complaint with the USOC (this step may follow an internal NGB hearing process, but it is not necessary with these types of disputes to exhaust internal remedies prior to filing a Section 9 complaint).  A Section 9 complaint must be filed within 6 months of the alleged denial.

The Section 9 complaint provides notice to the USOC that this issue exists. The Athlete Ombudsman and other USOC staff may try to assist in mediating the dispute. At any point following the filing of a Section 9 complaint, the athlete may file for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association (AAA) for a final and binding decision. In cases where time is of the essence, the Section 9 complaint and demand for arbitration may be filed simultaneously. An athlete may request that the AAA conduct an expedited hearing, and if justice requires, the AAA will her and render a decision within 48 hours.

NGB non-compliance with the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act

Process: Complaint with NGB (necessary to exhaust all internal remedies prior to Section 10 complaint) --> Section 10 complaint with USOC (decision must be rendered prior to filing for arbitration with AAA) --> Arbitration demand with AAA

Under Section 10 of the USOC Bylaws, any person that belongs to an NGB or PSO may seek to compel such NGB or PSO to comply with the requirements of the USOC Bylaws and the Sports Act.  

An athlete who believes that her/his NGB or PSO is out of compliance with the mandates set forth in the USOC Bylaws or the Sports Act, may file a formal complaint within the grievance procedures of the NGB. After all internal remedies have been exhausted, an athlete may file a Section 10 complaint with the USOC. The parties may at any point of this process request mediation. The USOC appoints a hearing panel that will recommend to the USOC Board if the NGB (i) is in compliance, (ii) is not in compliance and NGB status should be revoked, (iii) is on probation, or (iv) remedial actions can rectify any non-compliance. Following the decision of the hearing panel, either party may file for a final and binding decision with the American Arbitration Association (AAA).

Other Grievances and Disputes (e.g., code of conduct/ethics violations not involving a suspension, non-protected competition issues, challenges to a NGB rule, etc.)

When disciplinary action is taken is taken against an athlete by an NGB, or an athlete wants to challenge an action or rule of the NGB, NGBs vary in how to handle these types of disputes or grievances. The athlete should look at the procedures outlined in the NGB’s rules and procedures. What is common to all NGBs is the mandate that if an athlete’s right to participate under Section 9 is threatened, s/he has the right to file a Section 9 complaint with the USOC and subsequently, a demand for arbitration with the AAA.

*                The above serves as merely an outline to these various processes and procedures. An athlete who wishes to seek a remedy through any of these procedures should access the NGB and USOC policies and rules to become aware of all requirements and deadlines. Athletes may also contact the Athlete Ombudsman with further questions.