Amateur Sports Act and Ted Stevens

Yesterday in Alaska, it was the late Senator Ted Stevens’ birthday.  It’s perfectly fitting that it falls on the day that amateur athletes open the competition season with the Race To the Cup.

America’s Olympic athletes should never forget Ted Stevens

By Mike Moran. Chief communications officer of the USOC for nearly 25 years before retiring in 2003.

“Every American Olympic athlete who has mounted the podium to receive a medal from Lake Placid to Vancouver should pause today to take a moment to remember former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens.

Stevens authored, sponsored and delivered the most important piece of legislation in the history of the American Olympic movement in 1978, the Amateur Sports Act, now named after him. The historic legislation is the blueprint by which the United States Olympic Committee gained its pivotal, central role in carrying out its mission and assuring that every American athlete, no matter their lot in life, can dream and have the right to compete for the chance to realise their goal.

Simply put, Ted Stevens had the back of hundreds of thousands of men and women from every state, city, town or hamlet who wanted to achieve something special. Most failed, but many others have made up our Olympic and Paralympic teams, Pan American Games teams, and scores of others who earned the right to represent our nation at World Championships or Trials leading to the ultimate recognition.

It brought the system of individual national governing bodies for each Olympic or Pan Am games sport with those same guarantees built into their charters, and it installed a brand-new system of appeal and arbitration for our athletes they would never have dreamed of under the former good old boys network now demolished.
As a product from this massive reform came the reborn USOC, which had been little more than an Olympic travel agency for decades, selling lapel pins and belt buckles to help finance  the trips to the Games, its board dominated by the AAU and its cronies, doing business in some smoke-filled back rooms in New York City.
Now there were to be Olympic Training Centers where athletes could develop their skills at no cost. A new national headquarters was opened in Colorado Springs in August, 1978, where the USOC grew from a dozen staffers like me, to the mature, diverse and efficient, prominent force that it is today.
Training centres came alive in Colorado Springs, Squaw Valley and Lake Placid, and later Chula Vista. And the stage was set for what has now become reality, the United States is a power in both the Winter and Summer Games and we have, because of the strength of the National Governing Bodies, a  deep and resilient talent pool.
The Amateur Sports Act is not perfect, and it has been challenged, criticised and amended over the years to meet the needs and changes in American sport, from the rapid growth of the Paralympic movement to issues like women’s representation in the USOC and the NGBs, but is continues to sustain the complex nature of Olympic sport.

Not much of the reporting about Stevens’ life and death will mention his massive contributions to America’s athletes or the USOC, but it will never be forgotten by those of us who were part of the rebirth of the organisation in 1978, it’s move to our cherished Colorado Springs and the Rockies, and by thousands of athletes who had a dream of greatness, and those who are just now beginning to create their own.

Callan’s great-uncle Joe was there.


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