Smith files discrimination lawsuit

Updated: June 18, 2004, 9:52 PM ET
Associated Press

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."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press