Sports Law • Risk Management

February 11, 2011: ADA: Is Your Facility or Tournament in Compliance?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is federal legislation enacted to prohibit discrimination against those with disabilities. The ADA is relevant for those in the sports industry because public sport and recreation facilities built or renovated after January 26, 1993 must accommodate individuals with disabilities according to strict ADA standards. For those facilities existing prior to 1993, some accommodation must be made if changes are effective, practical and fiscally feasible. It is the obligation of both the owner and the lessee of any public facility to comply with the ADA. Able-bodied and disabled persons must have full and equal enjoyment of the space.

Beyond meeting ADA requirements for facilities, the ADA also applies to competitors in a golf tournament. Take the U.S. Supreme Court case of the PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin, 532 U.S. 661 (2001). In that case, a golfer playing in a professional qualifying tournament asked for a waiver of the sponsor’s walking rule for the final qualifying stage of the tournament. The waiver was requested on the basis of the athlete’s degenerative circulatory disorder in one leg, which makes it difficult for him to walk for long spells. The golfer filed an action under the ADA after the sponsor refused to waive the no cart rule.

In Martin’s case, the Supreme Court held that the ADA applies to qualified golfers with disabilities who play in professional tournaments because the golf courses are places of public accommodation. It further held that sponsors must allow a qualified golfer with a disability use of a golf court despite a rule that contestants must walk as it does not fundamentally alter the nature of the golf tournaments.
With the ruling that the ADA can apply not only to sport facilities, but to golf tournaments, it is clear that the ADA has breadth that applies to a wide range of sport organizations. So the question is, are you doing everything required to be in compliance with the ADA?