A group of amateur athletes who have trained for the 1980 Moscow Olympics asked a federal court here yesterday to overturn the U.S. Olympic Committee's decision to abide by President Carter's boycott demand.
In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court, the 19 athletes, joined by a coach and a member of the USOC executive board, contend that they have a legal right to participate in the Summer Games unless there is clear evidence that their acitivities would jeopardize their sports.
On April 12, the USOC House of Delegates in Colorado Springs voted by 2 to 1 against sending a team to the Moscow Games, after heavy lobbying from the Carter administration. In a telegram sent just before the decision was put to a vote, Carter said that a USOC move to send a team to Moscow would be against "the national interest and would jeopardize national security."
The group argued in court papers that the USOC, authorized by Congress to oversee American participation in the Olympic games, has no power to ban athletes from the competition for "political, national interest, or national security reasons."
The athletes contend that the Olympic committee violated its own rules which say that decisions about participation in the Games must remain free from any political or economic pressures.
In their lawsuits, the athletes also say the Carter administration "engaged in a campaign to coerce" the Olympic Committee to comply with the boycott demand, including threats to terminate federal funding and revoke the USOC's federal tax-exempt status.
In Lausanne, Switzerland, where the USOC is meeting with the International Olympic Committee, USOC president Robert Kane said, "The athletes have the perfect right to file the suit if they wish to. I do not see any point to it. The USOC vote to boycott was 2 to 1 and they were part of the voting. I expect I'll be talking to them when I get back to the States."
While the suit filed yesterday names the USOC as the sole defendant, it is anticipated that the Justice Department will intervene on behalf of the White House in an effort to see that the USOC boycott decision withstands the court challenge.
The lawsuit was brought for the athletes by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation in New York which has asked the court here to certify the case as a class action on behalf of all U.S. amateur athletes who have a prospect of participating in the Moscow Games. The Athletes's co-counsel is the Washington law firm of Covington & Burling.