IOC defends exclusion of women's ski jumping

The International Olympic Committee says its decision not to include women's ski jumping at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games is based on technical merit and isn't discriminatory.

The International Olympic Committee says its decision not to include women's ski jumping at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games is based on technical merit and isn't discriminatory.

"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 e-mail to the Canadian Press on Wednesday. "Any reference to the fact that this is a matter about gender equality is totally inappropriate and misleading."

Katie Willis, a 16-year-old ski jumper from Calgary, said she was disappointed but not surprised by the IOC's response.

"After yesterday, I was hoping for a lot more from the IOC," said Willis, whose mother filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging that keeping the women jumpers out of the Games was discriminatory. "I am a little disappointed in what they said."

Government takes skiers' side

The federal government said Tuesday it would try to convince the IOC to include women's ski jumping at the Vancouver Games. The move came as part of a settlement over Willis's complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

"I know the IOC tried to stop this discussion before we could even start by saying there is no chance," Willis said.

Moreau said the IOC understands the frustration of the women jumpers.

"The IOC would like to underline that it understands the heartfelt emotion with which the Canadian women's ski jumpers are so keen to compete at their home Games in Vancouver in 2010," he wrote in the e-mail.

"This desire is natural, as is the support of this wish by the Canadian government and Canadians throughout the country."

Too few athletes, championships

Decisions to include an event at the Olympic Games are taken on technical merit and in a global context, Moreau insisted.

With too few athletes competing and no world championships until a year before the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, women's ski jumping does not meet the necessary technical criteria and therefore doesn't yet warrant a place alongside other Olympic events, he said.

"With the technical merit of the event unchanged, the decision taken in November 2006 stands." Moreau wrote.

The IOC voted in 2006 not to allow women's ski jumping into the 2010 Games, saying the sport had not yet developed enough and that it didn't meet basic criteria for inclusion.

In order to be considered for inclusion in the Olympic Games, a sport must have held at least two world championships. The first women's ski jumping world championships will be held next year in Liberec, Czech Republic.

The Olympic charter also won't allow new sports to be added within four years of the Games.

IOC criteria not always met

Willis said the IOC is using the technical merit justification as an excuse.

"I don't think it's at all about criteria," she said. "I know there are several other sports that are in the Olympics that don't meet their criteria either."

Supporters of women's ski jumpers argue there are 135 women ski jumpers in 16 countries. This compares to other sports already in the Games like snowboard cross, which has 34 women from 10 countries, skier cross, which has 30 women from 11 nations, and bobsled, which has 26 women from 13 nations.

They also argue that women's marathon was added to the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles after a single world championship in 1983.

Willis said the IOC's initial response hasn't deterred the determination of the women ski jumpers.

"I think it's been hard from the start to convince them (the IOC)," she said. "Now it's an even bigger battle.

"We have everyone behind us, even the government behind us, and still it's a battle between us and the IOC."