Reynolds wins damage award, but can he collect it? $27 million in balance in U.S.-world track fight

December 04, 1992|By Phil Hersh | Phil Hersh,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Butch Reynolds, 1988 Olympic silver medalist and world record-holder in the 400 meters, has won an award of $27.3 million in damages from the International Amateur Athletic Federation.

Now the question is whether he can collect any of it from a London-based organization which, its Italian president claims, is virtually above the laws of any land.

The IAAF, world governing body of track and field, clung to that position even after yesterday's ruling in Reynolds' favor by Judge Joseph Kinneary of the U.S. District Court of Southern Ohio. Kinneary awarded $6.8 million in compensatory damages and $20.5 million in punitive damages.

It was a default judgment, since the IAAF chose not to contest the lawsuit.

Reynolds' action sought revenue lost after he was suspended for two years by the IAAF as the result of a doping control at an Aug. 12, 1990, meet in Monte Carlo. The control allegedly showed his use of a performance-enhancing steroid.

"The IAAF position remains the same," said spokeswoman Jayne Pearce. "We have been advised U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over the IAAF."

Kinneary's opinion asserts such jurisdiction. It also says the IAAF's report of Reynolds' drug use was "not only false, but. . . was disseminated with malice."

"The IAAF," says the opinion, "has purposefully avoided the truth, if for no other reason than to protect the credibility of its drug testing facilities at the expense of Mr. Reynolds."

The matter of how and when Reynolds can recoup that expense remains problematic.

International law experts contacted agreed that the only way for Reynolds to receive the damages was by attaching debts owed the IAAF by its U.S. based-sponsors, which include Visa, Coca-Cola, Mars and Mobil. The experts differed on the likelihood of his collecting.

"I don't think he has a very good chance," said University of Iowa law professor Jonathan Carlson. "There is no international law obligation on them [the IAAF] to pay."

"I would say the chances are excellent of collecting part of it," said Northwestern University law professor Anthony D'Amato. "I would predict a settlement at the lower end of the judgment."

Dave Young, one of Reynolds' attorneys, said the IAAF has shown "no inclination to settle" in previous discussions.

"It is hard to deal with someone like [IAAF president] Primo Nebiolo who is willing to risk all the marbles to the death," Young said. "But you can't let him bully you."

Young said Reynolds' next move would be to determine how much money the IAAF is owed by U.S. corporations and then seek to attach it. He said that process could take two or three years.

"I believe that as we get closer to the 1996 Olympics [in Atlanta] and the level of commercial activity between the IAAF and the U.S. increases, there will be more possibilities of collection," Young said.

Reynolds is believed to be the first athlete awarded damages in a suit against an Olympic-related sports body.

That would be the second first for Reynolds in his 2 1/2 -year battle against the IAAF. The suspension was extended by the IAAF to Dec. 31 after he successfully challenged it to run in the U.S. Olympic Trials.

In June, when U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens cleared Reynolds to compete in those trials, it was the first time the Supreme Court ever ruled on a matter involving Olympic competition. Reynolds made the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team but was kept from the Barcelona Games by the IAAF ban.

"This should be another warning to the IAAF and other organizations that the rights of U.S. citizens cannot be interfered with," said Reynolds, 28, an Ohio State graduate from Akron. "I just hope the IAAF isn't vindictive because of the magnitude of the award and tries to punish me again."

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