British Columbia

Female ski jumpers lose Olympic battle

Female ski jumpers won't be competing in the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, the Supreme Court of B.C. has ruled.

Female ski jumpers won't be competing in the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, the Supreme Court of B.C. has ruled.

American Lindsey Van is one of a group of female ski jumpers frustrated the IOC will not include their sport in the 2010 Winter Games. ((CBC))

In a ruling issued Friday, Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon expressed sympathy for the women, but said the court doesn't have the authority to force the International Olympic Committee to include the sport in the 2010 Games.

The group of 15 former and current female ski jumpers went to court in April to argue their exclusion from the Vancouver Games violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They wanted a court declaration that the organizing committee of the Vancouver Olympics, known as VANOC, must either hold women's ski jumping in 2010 or cancel all ski jumping events.

VANOC argued that the IOC decides which sports are allowed in the Games and that the Charter doesn't apply to it. 

For its part, the IOC had insisted that its decision to keep women's ski jumping out of the Vancouver Games was based on technical merit, not discrimination.

"The IOC would like to stress again the decision not to include women's ski jumping has been taken purely on technical merit," Emmanuelle Moreau, the IOC's media relations manager, said in an email to The Canadian Press in November 2008. "Any reference to the fact that this is a matter about gender equality is totally inappropriate and misleading."

Reasons for judgment

In her reasons for judgment, Fenlon agreed with VANOC that the issue is an IOC responsibility. While she conceded that women are being discriminated against, the responsibility for eliminating that discrimination is the IOC's, not VANOC's, she wrote.

Fenlon also sided with VANOC in its argument that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply in this case. The IOC is not governed by the Charter nor does it fall under this court's jurisdiction, she wrote.

As for VANOC, it did not breach the Charter by nature of the fact that it had no power to remedy the gender inequity by either ordering either the inclusion of women's ski jumping or the removal of men's ski jumping from the 2010 Games.

"In other words, VANOC is not under a duty to distribute equally what it has no power to provide," Fenlon wrote.

Katie Willis, a member of the group that brought the suit, called the decision a blow for gender equality in sport.

"It sends a message that, apparently, we need to do more than just this. You know, it's a little harder than we thought," she said. "We thought this was going to be it. I know we were all being cautiously optimistic, but this does show that, sometimes, gender equity does not take precedence over the Charter."

In 2008, Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, said because there are so few Olympic-level female ski jumpers in the world, including them in the Games would dilute the medals being handed out to other athletes.

Supporters of women's ski jumping argue there are 135 top-level female ski jumpers in 16 countries, saying that's more than the number of women competing at that level in some other sports that are already in the Games.

IOC charter requirements

In 2006, the IOC said past world championships were one of several criteria used to determine which of several possible new events would be included in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"Events must have a recognized international standing both numerically and geographically, and have been included at least twice in world and continental championships," according to the statement, which was re-released by the IOC on Friday.

The statement said the decision not to include Curling Mixed Doubles and Women Ski Jumping in the 2010 Winter Games "was made as their development is still in the early stage thus lacking the international spread of participation and technical standard required for an event to be included in the programme."

But advocates for the inclusion of women's ski jumping say that requirement was formally dropped by the IOC in 2007. They also pointed out that world championships for women's ski jumping were held this year in Liberec, Czech Republic.

According to the IOC's charter, for a sport to be considered for inclusion in an Olympic Games, it must be approved by its governing body at a general meeting known as the Session.

"The choice of all sports for the programme, as well as the determination of the criteria and conditions for the inclusion of any sport in the programme, falls within the competence of the Session....The Session is the general meeting of the members of the IOC. It is the IOC’s supreme organ. Its decisions are final," according to sections 18 and 46 of the Charter.

With files from The Canadian Press