Amateur Athletic Union

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Amateur Athletic Union
Amateur Athletic Union logo.svg
FormationJanuary 21, 1888; 134 years ago (1888-01-21)
FounderJames E. Sullivan
Founded atNew York Athletic Club
TypeAmateur Sports Organization
HeadquartersLake Buena Vista, Florida, US
700,000 athletes and coaches nationwide
Jennings “Rusty” Buchanan

The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) is an amateur sports organization based in the United States.[1] A multi-sport organization, the AAU is dedicated exclusively to the promotion and development of amateur sports and physical fitness programs.[2] It has more than 700,000 members nationwide, including more than 100,000 volunteers.[3]

The AAU was founded on January 21, 1888, by James E. Sullivan and William Buckingham Curtis with the goal of creating common standards in amateur sport.[4] Since then, most national championships for youth athletes in the United States have taken place under AAU leadership. From its founding as a publicly supported organization, the AAU has represented U.S. sports within the various international sports federations. In the late 1800s to the early 1900s, Spalding Athletic Library of the Spaulding Company published the Official Rules of the AAU.

The AAU formerly worked closely with what is now today the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee to prepare U.S. athletes for both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, helping in the qualification of athletes to form the national team. As part of this, the AAU Junior Olympic Games were introduced in 1949, with athletes aged 8 to 16 years, or older in certain sports, being able to participate. Many future World and Olympic champions have appeared in these events, which are still held every year.

In the 1970s, the AAU received growing criticism. Many claimed that its regulatory framework was outdated. Women were banned from participating in certain competitions and some runners were locked out. There were also problems with sporting goods that did not meet the standards of the AAU. During this time, the Olympic Sports Act of 1978 organized the then United States Olympic Committee and saw the re-establishment of independent associations for the Olympic sports, referred to as national governing bodies. The rise of professionalism in all sports in the latter half of the 20th century also hurt the AAU's viability. As a result, the AAU lost its influence and importance in international sports, and focused on the support and promotion of predominantly youthful athletes, as well as on the organization of national sports events.


Prior to AAU, the National Association of Amateur Athletes of America (NAAA) existed from 1879 to 1888. The AAU was co-founded in 1888 by William Buckingham Curtis to establish standards and uniformity in amateur sports.[4] During its early years the AAU served as a leader in international sport representing the United States in the international sports federations. The AAU worked closely with the Olympic movement to prepare athletes for the Olympic Games.[citation needed]

After the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 broke up the AAU's responsibility as the national Olympic sports governing body, the AAU focused on providing sports programs for all participants of all ages beginning at the local and regional levels.[citation needed]

The open USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships were organized by the AAU between 1888 and 1978 [3] [4]. The philosophy of the AAU is "Sports for All, Forever." In 1923 the AAU sponsored the First American Track & Field championships for women. The AAU is divided into 56 distinct district associations, which annually sanction 34 sports programs, 250 national championships, and over 30,000 age division events. The AAU events have over 500,000 participants and over 50,000 volunteers.[citation needed]

Women barred[edit]

Starting in 1914, the Amateur Athletic Union barred women athletes from competing in events that it sponsored.[5] In 1914 they changed their rules and allowed women to compete in a limited number of swimming events.[6] Just two years later in 1916, AAU was considering discontinuing their experiment in allowing women at swimming events.[7]

In 1922, the Metropolitan AAU in New York City approved a larger program of sanctioned events for women but still barred them from running events over one-half mile because they were considered too strenuous.[8] The reason given for barring women was that if a woman was allowed to run more than a half-mile they would put their reproductive health at risk.[9][10] But by 1923 the AAU allowed women to compete in most sports, including basketball.[11] The AAU held women's basketball tournaments from 1926 through 1970.[12]

In 1961, the Amateur Athletic Union still prohibited women from competing in road running events and even if organizers broke the rule and allowed a woman to participate, her results would not be counted in the official race results.[10] In 1970, the first New York City Marathon ignored the AAU rules and allowed women in the event even if it meant that their scores would not be official. For the second New York City Marathon in 1971 the AAU allowed women to participate if they started the race 10 minutes before, or 10 minutes after the men, or if they ran a separate but equal course.[9] By 1974 women were becoming more vocal about their restrictions.[13]

Ice hockey breaks away[edit]

Prior to 1936, ice hockey in North America was governed by the AAU and the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada. After the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) split ways with its national union, the AAU terminated its working agreement with the CAHA which had allowed for transferring of players and exhibition games between the two countries.[14] The AAU then issued an ultimatum to the Eastern Amateur Hockey League (EAHL) in August 1937, not to have any Canadian-born players in its league. EAHL president Tommy Lockhart chose to break away from the AAU and reached an agreement with the CAHA,[15] then founded the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States (AHAUS) to govern ice hockey.[16] The AHAUS and the CAHA joined to form the International Ice Hockey Association,[17] which merged into the Ligue Internationale de Hockey sur Glace to become the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) in 1947.[18] With the merger, the IIHF chose to recognize the AHAUS as the governing body of hockey in the United States, instead of the AAU.[18]

Despite the decision by the IIHF, the AAU sent its own team to compete in ice hockey at the 1948 Winter Olympics. The AAU was supported by the United States Olympic Committee led by Avery Brundage, who threatened a United States boycott the Olympics if an AHAUS team was recognized instead of an AAU team.[19] The status of ice hockey at the 1948 Winter Olympics was not resolved until the night before the Olympics began, after bitter negotiations. The International Olympic Committee allowed the AHAUS team to participate, but they were ineligible to win an Olympic medal.[20]


The Amateur Sports Act of 1978 was precipitated by grumblings of the inefficiency of the AAU to manage the multitude of sports at the Olympic level. USA Gymnastics was formed initially as a feeder program in 1963 as a response to perceived poor performance by the American performers in the Olympics and at World Championships. The USWF was formed in 1968 as an effort to take over amateur wrestling as an independent governing body. Their position was supported when FILA, then wrestling's world governing body, refused to accept membership of "umbrella" sports organizations like the AAU.[21] The International Track Association was formed immediately after the 1972 Olympics. Prior to the formation of the ITA, track and field athletes were amateur athletes, as required by the Olympic creed of the day.[22] The only income they received from their sport was "under the table." As a result, many American athletes' careers were frequently cut short shortly after their subsidized participation at the collegiate level ended, while Eastern Bloc and other international athletes frequently had their careers extended, subsidized ostensibly by participation in the Army or police forces. Pressure from the athletes had been mounting for years to find an answer. Track and Field News discussed the subject with its cover article "Take the Money and Run" in November 1971.[23]


The building opened as the Walt Disney World Preview Center in 1970 and currently houses the Amateur Athletic Union.

In 1994, the AAU joined forces with the Walt Disney World Resort, signing a 30-year agreement. As part of that agreement, many of AAU's national championships in many sports are played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista.[24] In 1996, the AAU relocated its national headquarters to Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.[25][26] More than 40 AAU national events are conducted at WWoS. The AAU headquarters is located within the former Walt Disney World Preview Center.[27]


Programs offered by the AAU include: AAU Sports Program, AAU Junior Olympic Games, AAU James E. Sullivan Memorial Award and the AAU Complete Athlete Program. In addition, the President's Challenge program is administered on behalf of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. The AAU has 33 national committees to organize its activities in particular sports.[28]

AAU operates under a 501(c)(3) tax-exemption letter granted by the federal government in 1996.

Sports offered[edit]

The Amateur Athletic Union offers participants sport programming in individual and team sports in their local community that they can join and compete with other athletes their own age. There are teams in most sports ranging from 9U to 18U, allowing youth athletes to play for championships in sports against other athletes similar in age and athletic development.

The AAU offers sport programming for individuals and teams in the following sports:[29]

AAU Cares[edit]

The AAU Cares program was established in 2016 as the AAU's way of giving back to the community. The first event was held in conjunction with the 86th AAU James E. Sullivan Award. With the assistance of New York State Senator Kevin Parker, bicycles were assembled by the AAU Board of Directors and presented to under-served New York City area youth.[30] Other AAU Cares events were held in conjunction with the AAU Girls' Junior National Volleyball Championships in 2016 and 2017 respectively where the AAU teamed up with Feeding Children Everywhere to pack a total of 120,000 meals in total for hungry children.[31]

United Hockey Union[edit]

The United Hockey Union (UHU) is a group of junior ice hockey leagues and the NCHA college club league based in North America. The UHU is overseen and insured by the Amateur Athletic Union and was founded in 2012. Neither body is recognized by USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, or the International Ice Hockey Federation.

AAU Hockey sponsors national tournaments[32] for minor hockey levels. A North American Championship for Squirt/Atom and PeeWee levels as well as Midget and Bantam[33] levels is set for debut in 2015 in cooperation with the Canadian Independent Hockey Federation (CIHF).

Masters Track and Field[edit]

Masters Track and Field officially began in 1968,[34] and in 1971 became a separate group within the AAU organization.[35] Masters Track and Field is now part of the USA Track & Field (USATF).


In the early 1970s, the AAU became the subject of criticism, notably by outspoken track star Steve Prefontaine, over the living conditions for amateur athletes under the AAU, as well as rules that were perceived to be arbitrary.[9] Congress adopted the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 in response to such criticisms, effectively removing the organization from any governance role. The AAU now continues as a voluntary organization largely promoting youth sports.

In 2015, Kobe Bryant strongly criticized the AAU, describing it as "Horrible, terrible AAU basketball. It's stupid. It doesn't teach our kids how to play the game at all so you wind up having players that are big and they bring it up and they do all this fancy crap and they don't know how to post. They don't know the fundamentals of the game. It's stupid".[36] Bryant, who moved to Italy at age six because of his father playing basketball there, stated that the AAU has been "treating (amateur basketball players) like cash cows for everyone to profit off of".[36] Steve Kerr has also spoken out against the AAU, stating that the AAU's structure devalues winning, with many teams playing about as many as four times a day and some players changing teams as early as from one morning to an afternoon the same day. Kerr also states that "The process of growing as a team basketball player — learning how to become part of a whole, how to fit into something bigger than oneself — becomes completely lost within the AAU fabric".[37]

Sexual misconduct allegations have come to light several times during the 21st century. Former President Robert W. "Bobby" Dodd was accused of abuse in 2011.[38] Then in 2016, the AAU was sued for allowing Rick Butler, a youth volleyball coach accused of sexually abusing his players in the past, to coach an under-18 team in the AAU Girls' Junior National Volleyball Championships.[39]


  1. ^ "Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) | Gold Coast Gymnastics". Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  2. ^ "Amateur Athletic Union of the United States | American sports organization". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  3. ^ "AAU - Amateur Athletic Union Jobs at Work In Sports". Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  4. ^ a b William Buckingham "Father Bill" Curtis: Founder of the U.S. Olympic Committee, by Lowell M. Seida (1998)
  5. ^ "A.A.U. Ban on Women. Female Athletes Barred from Competitions Sanctioned by Union" (PDF). The New York Times. January 18, 1914. Retrieved January 6, 2014. As a result of the recent agitation to permit enrollment of women athletes in the ranks of the Amateur Athletic Union a mail vote has been taken on the subject with the result that the Union has decided by an overwhelming vote to refuse registration to women athletes in all sports and competitions controlled by the A.A.U. ...
  6. ^ "Women Swimmers and A.A.U" (PDF). The New York Times. November 22, 1914. Retrieved January 6, 2014. While the unexpected action of the Amateur Athletic Union in permitting women swimmers to register hereafter and to compete at sanctioned meets ...
  7. ^ "A.A.U. May Discard Women's Swimming. After Two Years' Trial Question Will Come Before Annual Convention" (PDF). The New York Times. October 31, 1916. Retrieved January 6, 2014. The question whether the Amateur Athletic Union shall continue to recognize and control women swimmers will be one of the principal issues at the annual convention of that body, to be held in this city on Nov. 20. ...
  8. ^ "Women's Program Is Ready For Vote. Met. A. A. U. to Pass on Rulings for Athletic Competition at Friday Meeting" (PDF). The New York Times. December 13, 1922. Retrieved January 6, 2014. A standard programme for women's athletic competition in the local district will be adopted Friday night at a meeting of the Metropolitan A. A. U.'s Committee on Women's Athletics, to be held in the Park Avenue Hotel. ...
  9. ^ a b c Charles Butler (October 19, 2012). "40 Years Ago, Six Women Changed Racing Forever". Runner's World. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013. Retrieved January 6, 2014. Lebow and his fellow organizers had openly courted women when the first New York City Marathon was held in 1970, even going so far as to ignore rules put in place by the Amateur Athletic Union that barred women from marathon racecourses. ...
  10. ^ a b Jeré Longman (October 25, 2011). "A Leading Pioneer". The New York Times. Retrieved January 6, 2014. In 1961, the Amateur Athletic Union prohibited American women from competing officially in road races. When sympathetic race organizers allowed them entry, their results did not count. ...
  11. ^ Ikard, Robert W. (2005). Just For Fun: The Story of AAU Women's Basketball. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press. p. 14. ISBN 9781610752220. OCLC 645941637. Early diverging from the prevalent philosophy of physical educators, the AAU in 1914 deemed swimming an acceptable competitive sport for women. After World War I, the union endorsed elite female competition in track and field (1922), then all generally recognized sports (1923), including basketball. In doing so, it turned 180 degrees from the attitude expressed by its president, James E. Sullivan, in 1910. Invoking an increasingly dated outlook, Sullivan had said his organization would not "register a female competitor and its registration committee refuses sanction for...a set of games where an event for women is scheduled."
  12. ^ Ikard 2005, p. 13.
  13. ^ "Women Rebelling In Track. Trackwomen Rebelling Against A.A.U. Policies". The New York Times. February 27, 1974. Retrieved January 6, 2014. Growing discontent with the policies and practices of the Amateur Athletic Union is causing a rebellion in women's track and field. At a time when the sport has made significant strides in gaining recognition in this country, a series of events last week indicated a deterioration between national officials and individual coaches and athletes. ...
  14. ^ "No Concern Felt Here Over Trouble In Eastern Loop". Winnipeg Tribune. Winnipeg, Manitoba. March 2, 1937. p. 13.icon of an open green padlock
  15. ^ "Eastern U.S. Puck Loops Quits A.A.U." Winnipeg Tribune. Winnipeg, Manitoba. August 31, 1937. p. 36.icon of an open green padlock
  16. ^ "Lockhart, Thomas -- Honoured Builder". Legends of Hockey. Hockey Hall of Fame. Retrieved January 1, 2020.
  17. ^ Clarke, Robert (April 16, 1940). "New Controlling Body Formed At C.A.H.A. Meet". Winnipeg Free Press. Winnipeg, Manitoba. p. 15.icon of an open green padlock
  18. ^ a b "C.A.H.A. Gains Few Points At Prague Hockey Confab". Winnipeg Tribune. Winnipeg, Manitoba. March 22, 1947. p. 33.icon of an open green padlock
  19. ^ "Yank Puck Bodies Are Feudin' And Fightin'". Winnipeg Free Press. Winnipeg, Manitoba. November 8, 1947. p. 22.icon of an open green padlock
  20. ^ Sullivan, Jack (February 23, 1960). "'Squawk' Valley Hassles 'Duck Soup'". Brandon Sun. Brandon, Manitoba. p. 7.icon of an open green padlock
  21. ^ "THE END OF THE AAU". Vault. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  22. ^ "Symbols and traditions". USA Today. July 12, 1999. Retrieved May 18, 2015.
  23. ^ "Past Covers 1971". Archived from the original on April 16, 2015. Retrieved May 18, 2015.
  24. ^ "The History of AAU Basketball". Archived from the original on September 12, 2012. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
  25. ^ Lee, Mike. "The Walt Disney World Preview Center". Widen Your World. Retrieved April 21, 2019.
  26. ^ "About the Amateur Athletic Union". Amateur Athletic Union. Retrieved April 21, 2019.
  27. ^ "The Art of Preview Magic". Disney Parks. Retrieved March 5, 2021.
  28. ^ "AAU Official website". Retrieved May 22, 2008.
  29. ^ "AAU website".
  30. ^ "AAU Cares Initiative Kicks Off with Donation of Bicycles to Youth in New York City".
  32. ^ "Inaugural Mite-Squirt Nationals - good to go" (PDF). March 1, 2014. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 1, 2015.
  33. ^ "SRHL to Host AAU North American Championships". Grand River Generals. June 24, 2014. Archived from the original on December 23, 2014.
  34. ^ Masters History. [1] Retrieved Nov 22, 2020
  35. ^ USMITT Newsletter Feb 1971. [2] Retrieved Nov 22, 2020
  36. ^ a b Markazi, Arash. "Kobe: Europe's players more skillful". ESPN. Retrieved January 3, 2015.
  37. ^ Kerr, Steve (May 8, 2012). "The Case for the 20-Year-Old Age Limit in the NBA". Grantland.
  38. ^ "Amateur Athletic Union probes abuse charges against ex leader". Reuters. Retrieved December 10, 2011.
  39. ^ Assael, Shaun (June 24, 2016). "AAU sued for allowing Rick Butler to coach in under-18 tournament". ESPN.

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