USA Shooting and Olympic Athletes in a Mexican Standoff

usa-shooting

In August, American Olympic shooters, some preparing for the 2016 Rio Olympics, filed a grievance with the USOC against the national governing organization for shooting, U.S.A. Shooting. In October, U.S.A. Shooting slapped a lawsuit against the athletes, locking the two sides in a Mexican Standoff.

As stated in this New York Times article, the grievance alleges that:

  • (USA Shooting) Federation leaders are inept at raising money and promoting the sport.
  • Minutes of meetings of the board and executive committee, and meaningful financial information, are not posted on the federation website.
  • There is insufficient oversight of auditing, ethical conduct and financial compensation.
Gary Anderson_'64 Tokyo Olympic_Asahi Shimbun
1964 Tokyo Olympics gold medalist, Gary Anderson, current board member of the U.S.A. Shooting organization, from the book, ’64 Tokyo Olympics_Asahi Shimbun

It is not the first time that athletes and their governing bodies have battled in the US. Significant conflict has arisen in the worlds of gymnastics, wrestling and even at the higher levels of the AAU and NCAA. The over-riding issue is whether leaders of a governing body should stay in power indefinitely if their constituents find reason to believe that their interests as athletes are not paramount in the decisions of the governing body.

Apparently, the current U.S.A. Shooting executive director, Robert Mitchell, continued his tenure in a hotly contested board election in March.

The NY Times article sparked an emotional thread in a discussion board on a site called “Target Talk – a place to talk about Olympic style shooting, rifle or pistol, 10 meters to 50 meters, and whatever is in between.” The overall tone of the dialogue is sympathetic with the athletes.

  • “I wish I could say I was surprised, USAS seems to have no transparency at all in its leadership. I’ve no idea how they are elected…and have been a member for over five years.”
  • “Boards are meant to oversee an organization . . . why is the CEO sitting on the board? There are term limits in the by-laws, but they are not followed. Another board member has been on the board for 20 years without the required two year break. Shame on these 3 members of the executive committee – our athletes should be focused on the Olympics, not legal proceedings.”
  • “Sad. Another classic example of an organization that starts out with the best of intentions and then ultimately takes on a life of its own instead of focusing on the reason for its existence in the first place.”
  • “I also personally find it despicable that at least three of the board members/ top officials with USA shooting have decided to spend donations to USA shooting to sue their own athletes and other board members, to try and intimidate them into dropping their grievance.”
  • “I always figured that ANY organization or business like USA Shooting needs some continual change in management to get fresh ideas and keep things advancing. It also seems like the Shooting sports have been languishing or diminishing for decades now..”

The dispute continues. But at least, the two sides settled on a process – the formation of a Blue Ribbon Panel to Resolve USA Shooting’s grievances. The 7-member panel will be representatives from both U.S.A. Shooting and the athletes, including executive director Mitchell. The panel has been asked to “conduct an extensive review of USA Shooting’s Bylaws and relevant policies, ensuring the sport’s governance meets or exceeds universally agreed-upon best practices and enables USA Shooting to support its mission of preparing elite athletes for success and of growing the sport. ”

The lawsuit, apparently, still stands. And the standoff continues, but the panel is a possible step towards reconciliation.

“The optimist in me sees this as a necessary step in the right direction,” wrote a Target Talk member. “Time will tell. I think this is a de-escalation in hostilities, and a move towards USAS becoming compliant with USOC and Amateur Sports Act requirements.”