ski jumper, lindsey van, deedee corradini, ski jumpers
Darryl Dyck/AP Photo/The Canadian Press
Ski jumper Lindsey Van, of Park City, Utah, center, is surrounded by other ski jumpers as she
speaks to reporters while DeeDee Corradini, president of Women's Ski Jumping USA, right,
listens, outside British Columbia Court of Appeal in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009.

Women's Ski Jumpers Continue Pursuing Olympic Bid

December 03, 2009 07:00 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Female ski jumpers denied entrance to the 2010 Winter Olympics are taking their case to Canada’s Supreme Court, underscoring lingering gender inequalities in the sports world.

Refusing to Quit

The women, whose case has lost “at every level of court” since it began, are prepared to pursue every last option until the start of the Vancouver Olympic Games in February. In a press release, the group’s lawyer, Ross Clark, said the case goes beyond women ski jumpers, The Vancouver Sun reports.

“It is about the interpretation and application of the Charter,” as well as the issue of whether the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee is being forced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) into making a “discriminatory decision” in Canada, Clark asserts.

Last month, a court of appeal upheld a previous ruling by the British Columbia Supreme Court, which said the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) had not “discriminated against the women on the basis of their sex,” and that the IOC would not be held to the standards of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  

Anita DeFrantz, chair of the IOC's Women and Sports Commission, calls the situation “a textbook case of discrimination,” according to Christa Case Bryant in The Christian Science Monitor. One of the IOC’s arguments for not allowing women’s ski jumping is that the field is too small, and not as competitive as that of sports like alpine skiing or figure skating.

But other women’s events “with weak fields,” including bobsleigh and ski cross, have recently been added to the Olympic Games roster, suggesting “the issue is not as clear-cut as either side asserts,” according to Bryant.

Canadian Walter Sieber, an IOC member who recommended not including the women’s ski jump in the 2010 games, maintains that the decision was not gender-based. Sieber recalled the decision by the IOC to add women’s boxing to the Olympics as proof of the organization’s “true colors.” But statements made in 2005 by Gian Franco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation, tell a different story. According to Bryant, Kasper said ski jumping “seems to not be appropriate for the ladies from a medical point of view.”

Background: The argument and ruling

According to a 2008 article for NPR’s All Things Considered, the ski jumping event “is the last Winter Olympics sport closed to women.” The situation prompted DeeDee Corradini, president of Women’s Ski Jumping USA, to say, “[I]f the women aren’t going to jump then the men can’t either.” Corradini blamed VANOC, which she called a “quasi-governmental entity” that should be subject to Canadian law. Meanwhile, VANOC blamed the IOC for voting in 2006 not to allow women’s ski jumping in Vancouver.

In July 2009, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled that the IOC’s decision did not violate the women’s constitutional rights, according to The New York Times. Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon, however, did concede that “[t]he plaintiffs will be denied this opportunity for no reason other than their sex. But not every act of discrimination is a breach of the charter.”

Athletes are stuck in the middle of the arguments. Lindsey Van, an internationally ranked ski jumper, told NPR it has been “pretty painful to watch [men] I grew up training with be able to have that opportunity and me sit there knowing that I don't even have that opportunity because I'm not a male.”

Opinion & Analysis: Olympic commercialism and criticism of Jacques Rogge

The IOC may have been influenced by “the rising pressure of commercialism” when deciding whether to include women’s ski jumping, Bryant writes. Olympic officials admit to considering how well an event will do on TV, and how many tickets it will sell, according to The Christian Science Monitor. Today, “the bar for new events is higher—they must be ‘good for TV’ and ‘an addition that enhances the program,’” Sieber told the publication.

Others point to the new IOC President Jacques Rogge. In a column for USA Today, Christine Brennan says “Rogge is very much to blame” for the imbalance of male (58 percent) and female (42 percent) Olympians that competed in Beijing in 2008. “There was a time, not all that long ago,” Brennan writes, “when the Olympic Games were seen as the safest haven for women seeking equality in sports.” She also cites another disheartening statistic: Of the 111 IOC members, only 16 are women.

Related Topic: How female athletes move forward

The situation presents an opportunity to compare female athletes’ methods of pursuing equality, past and present. 

In an example of modern day protest, the Women’s Ski Jump Twitter account bio reads “Asking the IOC to uphold the true spirit an intent of the Olympics and add a women’s ski jumping event to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.” Tweets include “Man up, VANOC, and let the women jump.”

In 1972, six female competitors in the New York City marathon protested the requirement that they start 10 minutes before the men’s race by not starting until the time elapsed. After the race, the Amateur Athletic Union added 10 minutes to each woman’s finishing time, but the women sued. Subsequently, “simultaneous start times” became a rule, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation.

Perhaps a famous sponsor could give women ski jumpers a boost. For example, TV host Stephen Colbert recently decided that his viewing audience, the “Colbert Nation,” should sponsor the U.S. speed skating team. The team’s original sponsor, DSB Bank in the Netherlands, dropped the team. U.S. Speed Skating executive director Bob Crowley told CNN that Colbert’s support “will provide immeasurable exposure for our sport and very talented athletes."

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