IOC’s Snub Of Female Ski Jumpers A Double-standard
Marion Lay of Vancouver was honoured by the International Olympic Committee in 2001 for her work in promoting women in sports, earning the IOC’s Women and Sport Trophy for the Americas.
Eight years later, Lay is disappointed and angry at the IOC’s continued refusal to allow female ski jumpers to compete on her home turf at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
“On behalf of women and sport, I would like to beg the IOC to reconsider, given the facts,” Lay said this week — the same week that female jumpers were competing in the first Nordic World Ski Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic.
“This is Canada and they should be allowed to jump because it’s part of what we value and we stand for as Canadians,” she said. “And the IOC has made many commitments to women about being allowed into the Games. It has criteria to increase the number of women on the IOC. It should put those values into action.”
Lay is a former Olympic swimmer, an adjunct professor at University of British Columbia’s human kinetics program, a director of ParticipAction and the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, and she played a prominent role in Vancouver’s bid for the Olympics.
The IOC rejected the request to add women’s ski jumping in 2006 and has repeatedly said the women can’t jump because they don’t meet the criteria: There haven’t been two consecutive World Cup events and the sport doesn’t have broad appeal.
But Lay said the IOC has made exceptions in the past. The women’s marathon was run at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, even though there had been a single world championship.
As for broad appeal, she noted that by the ski jumping federation’s count, the number of women competing internationally is not out of line with the numbers competing internationally in recently added events such as snowboard cross, bobsled and ski cross.
Nor is the number of countries they represent.
“It’s hard to understand why the IOC wouldn’t make an exception,” Lay said. “My worry for Canada and the city is that people will forget that there was an organization named Vanoc. But they will remember that Canada and Vancouver held the Games where they didn’t do anything to further women in sport.
“I think it will be a black mark against these Games.”
At the IOC’s March executive board meeting in Denver, Lay said, it could simply reverse its decision and let the women in. That would give Vanoc time to amend the schedule to include the two-hour event at Whistler.
If the IOC doesn’t reconsider, ski jumping and Nordic combined (cross-country skiing and ski jumping) will continue to be the only two winter events that women are not allowed to compete in.
Vanoc, the Vancouver Games organizing committee, will be in the Supreme Court of B.C. on April 20 defending the ski jumpers’ exclusion.
What the jumpers’ lawyer will argue is that because the Olympic ski jump was built with public money, denying the women the right to compete at the 2010 Games contravenes the guarantee of equality in the charter of Rights. With the arguments expected to take a week, what that will likely mean is a week of bad publicity for Vanoc, the IOC, Vancouver and even Canada, as petite, young women talking about equality rights are pitted against the multibillion-dollar international sporting elite.
Lay isn’t the only prominent B.C. woman lobbying for the jumpers’ inclusion. Dawn Black, the member of Parliament for New Westminster-Coquitlam, calls the exclusion “an affront to Canadian values.”
In a recent letter to Minister of State for Sport Gary Lunn and Minister of State (Status of Women) Helena Guergis, she urged them to meet with the female ski jumpers, their families and coaches before making a strong representation to the IOC.
“If it is left up to the IOC without government pressure,” Black wrote, “then the injustice of the status quo will prevail.”
But Helen Lenskyj, a retired University of Toronto professor who has written extensively about women in sports and critically about the Olympics, said the court case and the lobbying is a waste of time.
“The IOC doesn’t abide by legislation of the host city or the host country. They are a law on to themselves. They suspend the right to free assembly and free speech at Olympics venues contrary to the Charter and the Bill of Rights. They do that routinely in every country. It’s what they do,” she said.
But the slogan used in 2010 Olympic ads is: I believe.
For nearly a decade, Vanoc president John Furlong has encouraged all Canadians to live the Olympic dream as he’s gone around the country promoting the Games.
Letting the women jump would give substance to both.