Park City, UT, Nov. 3--The athletes of theU.S. Disabled Ski Team have decided to fight their ouster from theUnited States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA), and have hired a lawyer and retained a public relations firm to help them in the quest. The actions are a result of the USSA's decision in September that the disabled team should form a "separate but parallel" organization by May 1, 2000.
While USSA board members have said the decision was a matter of focus and funding, and was in the best interest of the team, its athletes disagree. "The timing couldn't be worse," says Jack Benedick, chairman of the USSA's Disabled Sports Committee. "We've got the world championships coming up and the Paralympics in 2002. It's an emotional and mental burden they don't need now. I think there are politically incorrect reasons why they don't want us around and they won't state them."
The disabled team, which includes an alpine team that hasn't been beaten on the international stage since 1984, would likely have to move its offices, hire a marketing staff and pay for its own coaches were it to be released from USSA's governance. In fact, the USSA's promotion and administration of the disabled team has been held up as a model for disabled sports in the U.S. Athletes are afraid the recent decision will set disabled programs back years in development if carried out, but the USSA has stated the disabled team needs to set up its own ski-specific governing association to take full advantage of grants and funding opportunities it currently only gets pieces of as a member of the USSA.
"More funding possibilities would open up for the disabled team," says USSA Executive Vice President Bill Gorton. "By becoming an independent body, the focus would be solely on the U.S. Disabled Ski Team and it would take its rightful place at the table for USOC (U.S. Olympic Committee) funding." Gorton says that the USSA is committed to fund the team throughout this season and will make sure it is supported through the next season as well at least at the same level. He adds that the USSA felt that in order to make sure the team is properly funded and ready to defend its world standing during the 2002 Paralympics it was important to begin the separation process early.