Excluding women's ski jumping within right of Olympic organizers: VANOC

A lawyer for Vancouver's Olympic organizing committee says organizers shouldn't have to explain in court why they can't — or won't — include women ski jumpers in the 2010 Games.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn't apply to Olympics, lawyers say

A lawyer for Vancouver's Olympic organizing committee says organizers shouldn't have to explain in court why they can't — or won't — include women ski jumpers in the 2010 Games.

George Macintosh, the lawyer for the committee known as VANOC, said organizers have not done anything to violate Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"VANOC didn't do anything to go offside the Charter," Macintosh said.

"We shouldn't be here."

A group of 15 former and current jumpers is suing the Vancouver organizing committee, saying that excluding their sport from the Winter Games violates their rights under the Charter.

They argued in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver earlier this week that Games organizers must hold ski jumping for both genders or not hold the event at all.

But VANOC argues that although the committee receives government money and some government oversight, the Games are not a government activity so the Charter doesn't apply.

And even if it did, Macintosh argued, VANOC hasn't done anything wrong.

The committee understands the disappointment of the women ski jumpers at not being included in the Games, said Renée Smith-Valade, vice-president of communications for VANOC, outside the court.

"They are talented, committed and passionate athletes," Smith-Valade said. "If anyone understands Olympic dreams, we do at VANOC, and we truly understand how frustrated they are and how disappointed they are."

Organizers say that while they've supported the cause of women's ski jumping, their hands are tied when it comes to adding the event to the 2010 Games.

It is the International Olympic Committee that has control over the Games and only the IOC can decide what sports are on the program, said Smith-Valade.

"Where we have the authority to help them and to move them along the road to 2014 and getting included in future Olympic Winter Games, we've done so," said Smith-Valade.

"We've accepted we are not the authority to make the decision as to whether or not they will be in the 2010 Winter Games sport program."

According to facts provided by VANOC, the women have been provided free access to the Olympic ski jump venue near Whistler, B.C., for more than 1,000 training jumps in the last two seasons.

They've also been given the use of VANOC vehicles for their training camps and special Olympic rates at hotels, and VANOC has helped set up programs to get more women involved in the sport.

The International Olympic Committee voted in 2006 to keep women's ski jumping off the program for the 2010 Games, saying it wasn't developed enough to meet the criteria for inclusion in the Olympics.

The women argue that was pure discrimination because at the same time, women's ski cross was admitted even though that sport is less developed than ski jumping.

Ski cross was admitted under an IOC rule that all new sports added to the program after 1991 must have events for both genders. Ski jumping has been part of the Olympics since long before that date.

While VANOC could hold a women's ski jump competition during the 2010 Games without the IOC's approval, it could not be officially declared an Olympic event.

The IOC has declined to comment on the case, saying it stands by its original decision and is following the sport in the hopes it can be included in the future.

Should the case be decided in favour of the women, the IOC could decide to simply hold the men's event outside the country, lawyers for the women argued earlier this week.

Smith-Valade said she wouldn't speculate on the outcome of the case or what VANOC would need to do to accommodate a new event with less than 300 days left to go until the Games begin. 

"All we can go by right now is the status quo, and the status quo is that the IOC has decided not to include them," she said. 

Lawyers for local organizers will have two days to present their side of the case before the women's lawyers get a chance to reply.

The judge is expected to take some time before making her decision.