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Smith files discrimination lawsuit

6/18/2004

DENVER -- A taekwondo national champion in two weights has
filed a $10 million racial discrimination lawsuit against the U.S.
Olympic Committee for preventing him from competing at the Athens
Games and earning endorsements.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court Thursday, Charles
Smith accused the USOC of discrimination for banning him from the
U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and showing
favoritism toward white athletes.

The suit claims Smith, the 2004 U.S. national champion at 118
and 127 pounds, didn't qualify for the Athens Games because he was
denied access to Olympic training facilities, coaches and
equipment.

"When you train at the training facility, you get the best
because you train with the best," attorney Jimmy Bell said Friday.
"When you're not allowed to train and you're fighting in
international competitions, that's going to affect your ability. We
can't lose sight of that fact."

Smith, of Fort Washington, Md., had his privileges at the USOC's
training center suspended until January because of a heated
argument he had with USOC director of security Chuck George in
November.

Smith was later banned from the resident training program until
March 2005 after being accused of using another athlete's access
card to gain entry to the facility.

The lawsuit contends Smith, who is black, was treated unjustly
because two white athletes involved in the incidents were not
reprimanded.

USOC general counsel Jeff Benz said he had not seen the
complaint, but called the allegations baseless.

"The decisions taken to not permit Mr. Smith to live at the
Olympic Training Center and to later prohibit him from accessing
the training center after he had repeatedly demonstrated a
disregard for the rules had nothing to do with his race, but
everything to do with his inappropriate conduct," Benz said.

The suit contends Smith's performances dropped off after he was
banned from the training center, causing him to lose a spot in
Athens and the potential endorsement deals that would come with
making the U.S. Olympic Team. Smith finished fourth at the Pan
American regional qualifier, missing the Olympic team by one spot.

The lawsuit also said the USOC skirted its rules to give
taekwondo athlete Peter Lopez three chances at making the U.S. team
in place of Smith.

Bell pointed to the case of synchronized swimmer Tammy Crow as
an example of the favoritism shown by the USOC. Crow was allowed to
represent the United States in Athens despite pleading no contest
on two counts of vehicular manslaughter.

"My client was never charged with a crime, the person who did
the activity admitted to doing it and my client was still
punished?" Bell said. "She [Crow] admits the most heinous crime
we can have in a civilized society, which is the killing of two
other persons, and she can still be on the Olympic team and
represent the United States. That isn't right."