Olympian Suspended Over Sex Allegations Loses Bid to Go to Tokyo

July 30, 2021, 5:09 PM

An Olympic athlete’s lawsuit seeking reinstatement after he was suspended over sexual misconduct allegations was dismissed after a federal trial court found the claims preempted by the Amateur Sports Act.

Keith Sanderson’s claims are “styled as state-law claims for breach of contract and retaliation,” but he actually seeks “one fundamental remedy—reinstatement to the final roster for the Tokyo Olympics,” the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado said Thursday.

The claims are really challenges to the method by which the U.S. Center for SafeSport and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee determine eligibility, the court said.

Eligibility determinations “fall within the exclusive parameters of the Amateur Sport Act,” so courts lack jurisdiction to review those decisions, Judge Christine M. Arguello said.

Sanderson was qualified to compete as a rapid-pistol shooter in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and was given a position on the competition roster by the national governing body, USA Shooting Inc.

The Olympic Committee removed Sanderson from the delegation after SafeSport determined he engaged in “sexual misconduct while at an international event,” according to SafeSport’s brief.

Sanderson sued in June alleging he was denied due process as required by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The complaint alleged Sanderson was denied “a timely and meaningful hearing” and that SafeSport made a determination without an opportunity to confront witnesses or provide testimony.

Sanderson also asserted the suspension was retaliation for “his outspoken advocacy of athletes.”

The original complaint also named the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and USA Shooting Inc. Sanderson dropped his claims against the other defendants July 1.

According to Sanderson’s complaint, the allegations stem from 2018, when he was competing in Guadalajara, Mexico. At the awards ceremony it was alleged that Sanderson sexually touched a competitor “during the very public awards ceremony with hundreds in attendance,” the complaint said.

The other competitor filed a complaint with SafeSport approximately 10 days after the competition, according to the complaint.

SafeSport was created by Congress to protect athletes from emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.

Mitchell D. Smith PLLC represents Sanderson. Zonies Law LLC represents SafeSport.

The case is Sanderson v. U.S. Ctr. for SafeSport Inc., D. Colo., No. 21-cv-1771, 7/29/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Hayes in Washington at PHayes@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Peggy Aulino at maulino@bloomberglaw.com

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