Federal Court Shoots Down Colorado Man’s Attempt To Rejoin Olympic Roster

Ralph Lauren/Team USA Closing Ceremony Uniform Unveiling
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Team USA Tokyo Olympic closing ceremony uniforms are displayed during the unveiling at the Ralph Lauren SoHo Store on April 13, 2021, in New York. Ralph Lauren is an official outfitter of the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team.

An Olympic hopeful from Colorado has lost his bid to lift a suspension from the U.S. national team for sexual misconduct. A federal judge threw out Keith Sanderson’s lawsuit against the United States Center for SafeSport, a Denver-based non-profit that has federal authority to impose sanctions on Olympic athletes. 

Sanderson, a 46-year-old sport shooter who competed in the last three Olympic Games, was removed from Team USA’s shooting roster in June, after SafeSport completed its investigation into a 2018 sexual misconduct allegation from a co-competitor. He was hit with a three-month suspension from all competitions, which prevented him from joining Team USA. 

Lawyers for Sanderson filed a lawsuit against SafeSport several days after his removal from the roster. In it, they allege SafeSport engaged in retaliation and breach of contract. Sanderson’s team requested the U.S. District Court in Colorado overturn SafeSport’s suspension and reinstate him to the Olympic roster.

U.S. District Court Judge Christine M. Arguello dismissed the suit last week, saying her court lacks jurisdiction over Olympic eligibility decisions. Congress chartered SafeSport in 2017, through two amendments to the Amateur Sports Act. It has since had exclusive jurisdiction over these sorts of matters.

“Accordingly, as eligibility determinations fall within the exclusive parameters of the Amateur Sports Act, this court lacks jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff’s claims,” Arguello wrote in her opinion.

She also noted Sanderson failed to pursue arbitration with SafeSport before pursuing legal action against the group.

SafeSport has sanctioned over 600 individuals since its creation, according to the Pulitzer Center. Several prospective Olympians were banned from this year’s Summer Games qualifiers. In some scenarios, SafeSport can approve “safety plans” with Team USA, which allows suspended athletes to work around their sanctions and participate in the Olympics. SafeSport agreed to delay Sanderson’s sanction if he was accompanied by a chaperone at the Games and resided outside of the Tokyo Olympic Village.

U.S. Fencing alternate Alen Hadzic, who faced three accusations of sexual misconduct ahead of the Tokyo games, was able to lift his suspension through a similar arrangement — much to the disapproval of his teammates.