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Angel Perez, champion kayaker, has won the gold medal in the 1991 Pan-American Games, has competed in the 1992 Olympics and last year qualified in a four-man kayak for the U.S. Olympic team in the 2000 summer games next month in Sydney. Yet, he still might not be able to compete in September. Perez, who defected from Cuba six years ago and became a U.S. citizen on Sept. 25, 1999, recently learned that Cuba is protesting his participation in the 2000 Olympics. And under the rules governing the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Cuba is alleging they have a right to refuse his participation on the U.S. team for three years after Perez switched nationalities. Enter Edward G. Williams. A partner in New York City’s office of Holland & Knight and a renowned sports law expert, Williams has petitioned the IOC to reconsider and grant Perez a waiver to participate in the 2000 games. If he does not get a satisfactory response, Williams is prepared to fly to Sydney to argue before the International Court of Arbitration for Sport that Perez changed his nationality not when he became a U.S. citizen but when he won asylum five years ago. He said he is determined to do all he can to allow this athlete to participate in the 2000 Olympics. Making sure athletes compete has driven much of the work of this 58-year old, 6-foot-1-inch commercial litigator, himself an Olympic biathlete in the 1968 winter games in Grenoble, France, and a National Champion in cross-country skiing. Over the last three decades Williams has helped dozens of athletes, including B.J. Bedford, who recently qualified for the U.S. Olympic swim team; Stephon Flenoy, a track-and-field star in 1997; and other athletes who have qualified in track and field this year. But he does not only take on the causes of specific athletes. He also fights to change the laws and to make sure the governing bodies abide by them. ‘TIRELESS ADVOCATE’ And Williams, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who is also a full-time commercial litigator for large corporate clients, takes on some sports law cases pro bono. He says that if his firm and time allow, he will not turn down an athlete with a good case because of his inability to pay. “He’s a tireless advocate for athletes’ rights,” said Gary L. Johansen, United States Olympic Committee’s (USOC) associate general counsel, who has known Williams since the late 1970s. “He is very dedicated to his client’s cause,” Johansen added. In the 1960s and ’70s, if athletes were accused of bad behavior or taking drugs, they would be kicked off the Olympic team instantly without a formal hearing; no argument was allowed that perhaps the drug test was wrong or that the behavior was justified. A group of Olympic athletes in the early 1970s decided that this needed to be changed, that the athlete’s voice had to be heard and even sometimes heeded. “The world had changed in 1968 and in 1969, and the athletes who were conservative caught on in 1973 following the Munich Olympics,” said Williams. Williams, then a newly minted graduate of Columbia Law School, was one of these athletes who firmly believed the system was blatantly unfair. After some meetings this group formed in 1974 the Athletes’ Advisory Council (AAC), an organization that the old, paternal order had to acknowledge. Williams, then a Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy associate, became its second chairman in 1977. As head of the AAC, Williams testified before the President’s Commission on Olympic Sports, which had been created by President Gerald Ford to study the role of the USOC and other amateur sports organizations in the United States. ATHLETES’ RIGHTS But these changes were not enough for Williams. He pushed for Congress to adopt a sports act that would give athletes legal rights against their sports’ governing bodies and the USOC. After numerous drafts, Williams assisted in writing the language of the athletes’ rights section of the subsequently enacted Amateur Sports Act of 1978 (now known as The Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, named after the Republican Senator from Alaska) and the analogous provisions in the USOC Constitution and Bylaws. The language for the first time gave athletes the right to “fair notice and opportunity for a hearing … before declaring such individual ineligible to participate.” Also as a member — and then as chairman — of the Legislation Committee of the USOC, Williams made sure athletes had representation on the boards of the USOC and member national governing bodies. Thus, athletes for the first time became involved in the selection of athletes and coaches for each sport, and in complaint and hearing procedures. Williams also drafted a due process “checklist,” which the USOC in 1984 recommended that the National Governing Bodies adopt. Since then, the “due process checklist” has served as a model for hearing procedures. “I’m very proud of what we have accomplished over the years of having the Olympic Committee and the governing bodies understand the importance of having fair hearings and due process,” said Williams. “I’m not the most important guy in the world here, but I think we’ve made a lot of progress.” Williams, who spends roughly 30 percent of his time on sports law and the rest of his time on commercial litigation matters, said he is grateful to his firm for allowing him not only to indulge his passion but also to handle some of the athletes’ cases pro bono. More recently, Williams has played a significant role in revising the Sports Act in 1998 and was the force behind the creation of the independent athlete ombudsman on the USOC staff to help resolve athletes’ grievances. He also got the sports’ governing bodies to publish their selection criteria for athletes 12 months before tryouts, and is trying to get the USOC to publish that information on its Web site. According to James W. Page, managing director for sport performance at the USOC, Williams “was one of the first in this field and is still one of the most respected.” Not many lawyers do this type of work, especially on a consistent basis, said Page, who was a member of the ski team with Williams at Dartmouth. John W. Ruger, USOC’s athlete ombudsman agrees. “He has one of the best reputations in this Olympic community.” Athletes embroiled in disputes with their sports’ governing bodies come to Ruger for help. In turn, he often refers the more complicated cases to Williams. According to Ruger, in the last 12 months there were 241 inquiries made regarding disputes with the governing bodies, 34 of which became formal complaints with the USOC, and 20 of the formal complaints proceeded to arbitration. In the last two months alone, 10 formal athlete complaints went to arbitration, and of those, eight had a hearing. Without the Sports Act, none of these athletes would have had an independent forum for their disputes, said Williams. “His greatest contribution is that now when athletes have grievances, they can expect fair hearings,” said Ruger. “[Williams] has been a staunch and outspoken advocate of due process in dealing with athletes’ issues. He’s a mentor to so many generations.”

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