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Despite invitation to camp, Keller files for arbitration of USSF compliant.

By Gary Davidson
Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C, (Friday, February 26, 1999) -- Forward Debbie Keller, not invited to the United States womenís residency camp in January despite being the teamís second leading goal-scorer last year, filed a complaint with the American Arbitration Association today, seeking to be restored to the roster.

Keller action requests "arbitration pursuant to the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act." The complaint against the United States Soccer Federation alleges Keller was not invited to the camp, which is where the U.S. is preparing for this summerís Womenís World Cup.

The action, filed by Dane E. Butswinkas of the prestigious Washington law firm of Williams & Connolly, claims that Keller was dropped from the squad not because of her on-field performance, but because of the $12 million sexual harassment suit she and reserve goalkeeper Melissa Jennings filed against their former college coach, Anson Dorrance, whose North Carolina teams have dominated NCAA womenís soccer for two decades. Cited are the fact that 10 current and former Tar Heels are in the residency camp -- virtually all of whom have stated support of Dorrance -- and U.S. head coach Tony DiCicco, was recommended for the job by Dorrance, who when stepping down from the post recommended his then-assistant as his replacement.

Among the provisions of the Stevens Act is "to provide swift resolution of conflicts and disputes involving amateur athletes, national governing bodies, and amateur sports organizations, and protect the opportunity of any amateur athlete, coach, trainer, manager, administrator, or official to participate in amateur athletic competition."

[Full text of the Stevens Act can be accessed at http://www.usoc.org/c&b/sub1.html]

Kellerís harassment suit awaits trial in Chicago.

After word of the impending Keller complaint became public last week, DiCicco said yesterday Keller would be invited to spend next week in the U.S. camp as a "floater." Starting seven of the 23 matches she played in 1998, Keller scored 14 goals, tied for second with Tiffeny Milbrett behind Mia Hamm's 20.

Butswinkas would not comment on the action beyond a five-paragraph press release, which characterized the invitation "as little more than a thinly-veiled litigation tactic designed to camouflage the retaliation against Ms. Keller and use her demand for arbitration."

USSF secretary general Hank Steinbrecher did not return a phone call today. USSF president Bob Contiguglia was out of his office for meetings and could not be reached.

Below is the Williams & Connolly press release in its original, unedited form:

Statement on Behalf of Debbie Keller

This afternoon Williams & Connolly instituted legal action on Ms. Kellerís behalf with the American Arbitration Association against the United States Soccer Federation. Ms. Keller seeks arbitration pursuant to the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act for the Federationís failure to include Ms. Keller as one of the 26 regular members of the 1999 Womenís National Team Residency Camp, the precursor to selection to the United States World Cup Team. as a result, Ms. Keller has already been denied participation in at least three protected amateur athletic competitions. The demand requests that Ms. Keller be named as a regular member to compete in the Residency Camp and in National Team matches.

We believe that the failure to include Ms. Keller on the 26-player roster for the Residency Camp was unlawful, discriminatory and retaliatory. On August 25, 1998, Ms. Keller filed a sexual harassment suit against her former coach at the University of North Carolina, Anson Dorrance. Mr. Dorrance casts a broad shadow over womenís soccer and the Federation. He is the former coach of the United States National Team; he has ten current and former players in the Residency Camp; and he had a major role in seeing that Mr. Tony DiCicco was offered the head coaching position when Mr. Dorrance stepped down. The close connection between Mr. Dorrance and Mr. DiCicco is well known in the womenís soccer community.

That Ms. Keller was excluded from the residency camp because of her law suit (and not because of her skills) is virtually indisputable. Prior to filing her lawsuit, Ms. Keller was widely recognized as one of the top players in the United States. She received college Player of the Year awards in both 1995 and 1996. She was the USISL W-League MVP in 1997. In 1998, she was the National Teamís second leading scorer behind Mia Hamm; she started six of the eight National Team games prior to the lawsuit; and she had more goals per minute played than any player in the Residency Camp. Prior to the lawsuit, Coach DiCicco touted her as a rising star on the National Team. Nevertheless, three months after filing her lawsuit, she was excluded from the 26-player Residency Camp and has not been named to any of the 18-player rosters for international competition in 1999., which as a practical matter eliminates her opportunity to represent the United States in the World Cup.

The Federation has refused to give any explanation for Ms. Kellerís dismissal from the National Team and its programs. Moreover, about three days after learning that Ms. Keller would initiate legal action, the Federation invited Ms. Keller to the Residency Camp for one week. In our view, the invitation is little more than a thinly-veiled litigation tactic designed to camouflage the retaliation against Ms. Keller and use her demand for arbitration. Nevertheless, Ms. Keller accepted the invitation and will participate fully. She wants nothing more than to represent the United States in the World Cup -- an opportunity she has fully earned through her performance on the field for the United States National Team. The arbitration, however, will go forward.

The message sent thus far is unmistakable and unforgivable: Women athletes victimized by sexual harassment should keep those secrets to themselves. And if you do come forward, the consequences will be severe. In the case of Debbie Keller, it has all but ruined her soccer career. That is a powerful message indeed. That the Federation would permit itself to be the medium for such a message is inexcusable. Nor can we understand how permitting such a result advances the goals of womenís soccer. With Ms. Kellerís demand for arbitration, we hope to salvage a career and take at least a small step towards eviscerating that message."

Gary Davidson is managing editor of SoccerTimes and can be e-mailed at info@soccertimes.com.

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