2018 Tabor Institute on Legal Ethics Lectures


Mr. John Ruger
Senior Director of US Volleyball and Former US Olympic Committee Ombudsman

Thursday, February 8,  Wesemann Hall, Tabor Classroom
2:30 – 3:30 p.m. — Bench & Bar Lecture
4 – 5 p.m. — Public Lecture


Ethical Issues in Olympic Sport

With the XXIII Olympic Winter Games approaching, we take a look at how ethics in Olympic sport has shaped this international event.

It was November of 1998 when the Salt Lake City bid scandal broke with the leaders of the Organizing Committee ultimately resigning, replaced by Mitt Romney. The IOC (International Olympic Committee) instituted new bid reforms and now almost 20 years later, Carlos Nuzman, IOC member and head of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, is under arrest for bribery in Brazil’s bid for the 2016 Games. Are bid scandals inevitable in Olympic sport, and as such, baked into the culture of event? Or is it simply individuals who are rogue operators?

Is there a parallel with athletes and/or organizations who also bend or blatantly abuse the rules to secure a competitive advantage? Russia is charged with a state-sponsored doping program reminiscent of the old East Germany (DDR). Virtually all Russian athletes are provisionally banned from the Games (based on cheating in 2014 in Sochi) next month with 57 applying to the international Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to lift their suspension.

A month before the Salt Lake Committee scandal, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act which created an “ombudsman for athletes” at the US Olympic Committee (USOC). This was a first ever position of its kind in Olympic sport anywhere in the world. What were the pressures confronting this new position that was paid for by the USOC? Could the ombudsman take a position contrary to the USOC? And if so, what were the consequences? How did the ombudsman, who was initially perceived as a voice for athletes, gain the trust and respect of sport administrators? How did the ombudsman deal with athletes who were in conflict with each other which was a very frequent occurrence? In the twenty years since 1998, are there similar or divergent ethic lessons learned from these examples?


Olympian John Ruger was the first Athlete Ombudsman for the United States Olympic Committee, serving from 1999 to 2014. Through 8000+ cases, covering a wide range of athlete rights issues. including trials criteria, anti-doping, commercial terms, SafeSport, non-profit governance, code violations, eligibility and access to funding and services, Mr. Ruger developed a best-in-the-world standard for resolving Olympic athlete issues. He also fully encouraged and supported Valparaiso Law School and Professor Mike Straubel in setting up the first law school clinic to serve underrepresented and needy elite and Olympic athletes. A 1980 Olympian in biathlon in Lake Placid, Mr. Ruger served 12 years on the USOC Board of Directors including five on its Executive Committee. Mr. Ruger was also a member of the bid committee and later the organizing committee for the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. He was on the Athletes’ Advisory Council for three quads, with the last four years as the Chair. John’s Olympic involvement spans 38 years, 15 Olympic Games, 9 USOC Presidents, 11 Executive Director/CEOs and numerous governance committees. He was Vice President of Operations-Boulder for the 1995 Olympic Festival in Colorado. As a Manager of Southeastern Operations for HomeTeam ’96, John co-developed and implemented a new funding model for the USOC based solely on performance and podium potential which is now the basis of current funding.


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