A group of top women athletes met with President Carter and HEW Secretary Patricia Harris yesterday to urge that long-awaited federal regulations barring sex discrimination in school sports programs be issued and enforced swiftly.
"we're here as a living statement that we want women to be able to grow up as part of the American tradition of participating in sports," said Donna de Varona, an Olympic gold medalist in swimming.
Joining de Varona at the meetings were Olympic hurdler Lacey O'Neal, golfer Carol Mann and race car driver Janet Guthrie, all members of the Women's Sports Foundation.
"There are tens of thousands of other women out there who could have been Lacey O'Neals, Carol Manns, Janet Guthries, but they never got the opportunities," de Varona said.
The women presented Carter and Harris with a declaration endorsed by 26 national sports organizations, 18 individuals and 20 national organizations in support of Title 9, the federal law barring sex discrimination in educational programs and activities, including sports.
The president, de Varona said, "did not have anything difinitive to say about Title 9, but he said he does support women's sports."
The women said they were impressed with Harris, who promised to review the regulations being drafted by HEW'S Office for Civil Rights "immediately." Harris did not say when the final regulations may be released, they said.
The regulations, which affect the financing of equal opportunity programs in college sports, originally were scheduled to be out last April, but repeatedly have been delayed.
The controversial regulations have been the target of a lobbying effort by a coalition of almost 300 colleges opposed to the proposed spending formulas. Many athletic directors and coaches, moreover, want sports completely exempted from the antidiscrimination law.
"We want to show the president, Secretary Harris and the members of Congress that there is visible grassroots support for Title 9, that it's not just an issue for lawyers, educators or people outside the system," de Varona said.
The athletes also denounced a number of amendments to the Department of Education bill that, as Guthrie said "take the teeth out of Title 9" and other civil rights legislation. The bill now is in conference.
At a press conference arranged by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the women also called for the appropriation of $16 million that Congress authorized last session for the reorganization of the United States Olympic movement.
The authorization, which barely passed Congress in the waning moments of the last session, currently is under scrutiny of the Office of Management and Budget. Stevens, a major sponsor of the reorganization bill last year, urged support for the appropriation again yesterday.
The money still faces congressional opposition from members annoyed by the concept of federal funds for sports and unrelated other financial requests for the United States Olympic activities, such as subsidies for the 1980 Lake Placid and 1984 Los Angels Olympics.
Joining Stevens in support of equal opportunity for women in sports were Sens. Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.), Robert Dole (R-Kas.) and David Durenberger (R-Minn.) and Rep. Margaret Heckler (R-Mass.).
Both Heckler and Stevens noted that there is some confusion in Congress over Title 9, but that the difficulties could be resolved.
Heckler was cheered by onlookers when she remarked, "Why do we have to fight so hard now to retain this law we have already achieved?"