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In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the Amateur Sports Act of 1978. This act established the United States Olympic Committee, providing national governing bodies for each Olympic sport and providing legal protection for our country’s Olympic athletes.

The act was adopted in response to criticism of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), which had previously represented the U.S. in regards to international competitions and amateur sports regulations. The union had a variety of rules that were deemed arbitrary. For example, women were prohibited from participating in running events. The AAU still exists as a voluntary organization that promotes youth sports, but its governance role was removed with the adoption of the Amateur Sports Act. 

The U.S. Olympic Committee, established by the Act, can charter a national governing body for each sport. That governing body establishes the guidelines for selecting the U.S. Olympic Team and promoting amateur competition for each sport. Athletes who have represented the U.S. in international amateur competition within the last 10 years hold 20 percent of the voting power for any committee or board. Athletes are also provided with appeal rights and due process regarding eligibility disputes. 

1998: The Act is Revised

In 1998, the Amateur Sports Act was revised and renamed the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. This current version was sponsored by the late Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens. Some changes made included:

  • Expanding the U.S. Olympic Committee’s role to include the Paralympic Games
  • Reflecting the fact that amateurism was no longer a requirement for competing in most international sports
  • Increasing athlete representation
  • Clearing disputes over the selection and management of Team USA

A Potential for Future Revisions

The 1998 revision of the original 1978 Act is a testament to the fact that amendments and changes are sometimes necessary as our societal landscape changes and new information is discovered. 

For example, California Senator Diane Feinstein announced in 2017 that she planned to craft legislation that could potentially change how Olympic teams deal with allegations of sexual abuse. More than 8 million children participate in sports under the umbrella of Olympic organizations, and the senator’s goal is to ensure that those children are protected from harm. 

The current version of the Ted Stevens Act requires fair notice and due process to any athlete, coach or official who may be banned. These requirements have sometimes prevented coaches from being banned when abuse of athletes was suspected. There have not yet been any official revisions to the 1998 version of the Act, but the U.S. Olympic Committee welcomes “any and all dialogue on the subject of how training environments can be made safer.”

This dialogue is a fine example of how law and government aims to adapt for the betterment of our country. I suspect that laws and regulations will continue to improve processes for the athletes and future athletes of the Olympic games.