Earlier this year, the International Olympic Committee announced that it was removing snowboarding parallel slalom from the Winter Games program. The event had made its Olympic debut at Sochi in 2014, and only one athlete from the U.S. competed in it. That snowboarder, Justin Reiter, is now suing the IOC over its decision to cancel the event just two years and nine months before the 2018 Pyeongchang Games .
"The IOC bylaws clearly state that if it's less than three years before the opening of the Games, they [the IOC] can't change or remove events," Reiter said, referring to Bylaw to Rule 45, section 1.2, of the IOC Olympic Charter. "The reason being that countries are sacrificing their budgets and athletes are sacrificing their time and lives to train for something they're counting on will happen."
Reiter filed his lawsuit in the civil court of Lausanne, Switzerland, where the IOC is based. At a conciliatory hearing last week, the Swiss judge agreed to hear it. The case marks the first time an athlete has brought suit against the IOC for something that isn't a personal incident, according to Filippo Marchino, one of Reiter's attorneys.
"The IOC is faced with a case where an athlete is trying to have his voice heard on behalf of an entire discipline and have an Olympic schedule changed," Marchino said. "Legally speaking, it's a very big deal."
Reiter believes that parallel slalom provides a critical gateway into competitive snowboarding for youth around the world. He's also hoping to set a precedent for Olympic athletes to have some say within the IOC about matters that affect them directly. As it stands now, however, the IOC is impenetrable—easily able to ignore requests, critiques, or complaints. Prior to bringing suit, Reiter assembled an online petition of support for Olympic parallel slalom with more than 15,000 signatures, and submitted it to the IOC. He never received a response.
"Justin is full-on calling them out, and wanting, more than anything else, accountability from these guys," Marchino said. "The precedent would fundamentally be that an athlete or a group of athletes, on behalf of a discipline or on behalf of the athletes in general, can actually stand up to the IOC, which until now hasn't happened."
While the IOC does not comment on ongoing legal matters, the US Ski and Snowboard Association released the following statement:
"The IOC has established a process for determination of its Olympic events that has been progressive and evolved the Olympic program through time. We respect that process," Luke Bodensteiner, USSA executive vice-president of athletics, said. "At the same time, we also respect the rights of athletes like Justin Reiter to express their concerns to the IOC and other sports bodies."
Reiter will file his formal statement of claim, which Marchino calls "the perfected lawsuit," in October. The IOC will then have one month to answer Reiter's claim.
"I'm living out of my truck right now in order to finance this thing," Reiter said. "I need the mainstream to understand how important this is for all athletes, not just snowboarders."
Both Reiter and Marchino envision a future where runners could protest smog in Beijing or snow-sports athletes could call for a postponement of an event to wait for better and safer conditions. This case could be the first step.