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 Figure skating section

  Group Begins Disciplinary Action Against Harding

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 6, 1994; Page A1

LILLEHAMMER, Norway, Feb. 5 — The U.S. Figure Skating Association's panel investigating figure skater Tonya Harding today unanimously determined that "reasonable grounds" exist to believe that Harding was involved in or knew about a plan to injure rival Nancy Kerrigan, and has begun disciplinary proceedings against her.

Those proceedings likely would not affect her Olympic status. But following the USFSA's action, the U.S. Olympic Committee called Dennis Rawlinson, one of Harding's attorneys, to tell him that the organization's Games Administrative Board "is considering convening in Norway within two weeks to determine her status as a member of the 1994 U.S. Olympic Winter Games team."

That board, should it meet to hear her case, could remove her from the Olympic team.

"We're going to do what's right," USOC Executive Director Harvey Schiller said after a late-night news conference at the Main Press Center.

Schiller said that the USOC has not asked Harding to withdraw from the Olympic team, even though sources have said for three weeks that's exactly what the USOC would prefer Harding do.

After the USFSA announcement, Harding left the Portland, Ore., apartment where she has been staying. She made no comment.

A statement issued by her attorneys said, in part: "We stress that in its statement USFSA does not conclude that Ms. Harding has in any way been involved in any wrongdoing or in any way violated its code of ethics.

"The statement of charges is based upon conflicting evidence, including in part allegations by {ex-husband} Jeff Gillooly and {bodyguard} Shawn Eckardt, which Tonya has denied. ... "

However, the USFSA hearing panel said in its announcement that reasonable grounds exist to believe Harding, "while a member of the USFSA, committed an act, made a statement, or engaged in conduct detrimental to the welfare of figure skating and/or failed to exemplify the highest standards of fairness, ethical behavior and good sportsmanship in her relations with others."

The panel also found reasonable grounds to believe that Harding "committed an act to carry out a plan and/or was involved in a plan to injure Nancy Kerrigan; or knew about a plan to injure Nancy Kerrigan and either failed to oppose it, failed to report it, or made false statements about her knowledge concerning it."

"The ball is back in the USOC's court," said William Hybl, chairman of the five-member panel and former president of the USOC, at a news conference at USFSA headquarters in Colorado Springs.

The panel's report, as well as the evidence it considered, has been forwarded to USOC officials here. There was no indication from the USOC if it would in fact call its 13-member administrative board together to discuss Harding's participation in the Olympics. Schiller said that decision would be made within the next week. Schiller also said he wants USOC President LeRoy Walker to be involved in the decision on how to proceed. Walker is not expected to arrive here until next Friday, although he would be expected to be in contact with Schiller and other officials by telephone.

Other members of the administrative board also are not yet in Norway. The Olympics begin Saturday.

Harding would not have to be present for the USOC hearing to take place, Schiller said, although she would be invited to attend. The hearing would take place in Norway. The administrative board would have to make a decision by Feb. 21, the date of the draw for the women's figure skating competition. The competition takes place Feb. 23 and 25.

The announcements by the two organizations had entirely different meanings. The USFSA disciplinary action, to which Harding has 30 days to respond, would not affect her Olympic status — unless she asked the USFSA to have a disciplinary hearing almost immediately, and that panel decided to drop her from the USFSA — and would only impact on her membership in the figure skating association after the Olympics.

Brian Burton, one of Harding's attorneys, said today he doubted Harding would try to speed up the disciplinary hearing process.

"I don't think it would be in Tonya's best interest at this point to get involved in the hearings procedures," Burton told KXL-AM radio in Portland.

The Games Administrative Board could take more immediate action. According to the USOC constitution, established by the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, which is U.S. law, the administrative board "shall have final authority with respect to all matters regarding the United States official delegation at the site of the Games including, but not limited to, policy, protocol, discipline and similar matters."

The administrative board is in place during every Olympic Games.

If the USOC chooses to act, it likely would do so based on some of the same grounds the USFSA panel followed. These included the public records in connection with the arrests and confessions of Eckardt, Harding's bodyguard; Shane Stant, the man who allegedly attacked Kerrigan; Derrick Smith, the alleged get-away car driver; and Gillooly, Harding's ex-husband, who pleaded guilty in the case.

The USFSA panel also included the text of Harding's news conference of Jan. 27, in which she admitted she learned about the plot to harm Kerrigan within a week after the Jan. 6 attack.

The panel also reviewed documentation signed by Harding in connection with her entry and participation in qualifying competitions, the U.S. Olympic trials and her entry into the Winter Olympics.

At the heart of the matter is the issue of following the corresponding codes of conduct and ethics as a member of the USFSA and U.S. Olympic team.

Because of all the attention this case has received, and all the legal opinions rendered about it, U.S. Olympic officials were very pointed in saying tonight that the USOC's administrative board has the final authority to remove an athlete from the team.

"The USOC is not a court of law and we don't intend to act as a court of law," Schiller said. "I believe our constitution and by-laws are fairly definitive. ... We don't have statutes and laws that define criminal acts. We define issues of conduct and sportsmanship."

"This is a USOC decision, no question about it," said Anita DeFrantz, an attorney and the lone U.S. member of the International Olympic Committee. "All athletes sign a statement saying they accept the management of the team in all matters and the consequences of being part of the team. She has already accepted that because it's a condition of being on the team."

"Once the team leaves for Europe, due process is the administrative board," said John Ruger, chairman of the USOC Athletes' Advisory Council and a member of the administrative board.

The USFSA panel sent a statement of charges against Harding to USFSA President Claire Ferguson, who accepted the findings of the panel and forwarded the charges and documenting evidence to Harding, according to panel chairman Hybl.

Harding must now reply in writing to the statement of charges within 30 days, the USFSA said. Upon receipt of a reply, the USFSA hearing panel will set a place and date for a hearing at the earliest possible time.

The purpose of the hearing will be to determine whether Harding violated the USFSA's code of ethics, which, according to the organization, "requires its members to exemplify the highest standards of fairness, ethical behavior and genuine good sportsmanship in any of their relationships with others."

The panel said that because of "the imminent commencement" of the Winter Olympics, the issue of Harding's membership on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team "lies within the jurisdiction of the USOC and any administrative processes which it may choose to implement."

Col. Ken Schweitzer, a panel member and director of athletics at the U.S. Air Force Academy, said the decision came down to right or wrong.

"In the game of sport and the game of life, I think we try continually to do what's right," Schweitzer said. "We tried to do that. We tried to do the right things for the right reasons. As we looked at the evidence in this case and compared it ... not everything was right.

"I think the message we sent is loud and clear and very important for athletics across the spectrum, from the youngest child who is competing to the very elite athletes."

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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