Filmmaker claims USTA discriminates

NEW YORK -- A New York City documentary filmmaker sued the U.S. Tennis Association on Tuesday, claiming it discriminates against wheelchair players by refusing to sell broadcast licensing rights to their matches.

State Supreme Court Justice Michelle Weston reserved decision on a request to allow Brooklyn filmmaker Alan Rich to record the wheelchair competition at this week's U.S. Open.

The wheelchair division, which features 20 of the top players, begins competition Thursday and ends Sunday.

Rich, a lawyer who is representing himself and seven handicapped players in the case, has been filming a documentary about the players called "Fire in the Belly." He said his immediate goal is to be permitted to film the competition and later argue in court over whether the footage can be used in his documentary.

He contends that because the major networks covering the tournament -- CBS, ESPN and the Tennis Channel -- do not cover the wheelchair events, he should be given the rights.

"No doubt, many of us in society are not comfortable watching amputees in wheelchairs play sports yet," Rich said in his court papers. "While I do not fault the broadcasters for doing what, at present, they view as commercially viable, the USTA cannot have a policy that has the result of discriminating against these outstanding athletes with disabilities."

USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier said his organization limits filming of matches to the three television companies that have contracts with them. He noted international television companies have separate agreements.

Widmaier also said that two years ago, the Tennis Channel aired the wheelchair finals competition live and produced a half-hour highlights show of the tournament.

"That's our policy," Widmaier said. "If Mr. Rich were to apply for a credential so he could capture some of the on-grounds experience and post-match interviews, we would consider that request as we do all other newsgathering requests."

Rich said he expected a ruling from the judge Wednesday.