Ski jumpers suing VANOC to push for women's event at 2010 Games
VANCOUVER — An international group of women ski jumpers says years of discrimination against their sport must come to an end by the 2010 Winter Games, not just for them but for the next generation of jumpers.
A former Canadian jumper belongs to the group that has filed a lawsuit to push the point, but the body that oversees ski jumping in Canada says the courts aren't the way to make that happen.
Marie-Pierre Morin, a retired Canadian jumper, joined two current American jumpers and another retired athlete Thursday to speak passionately about why the nine women have filed a lawsuit against the organizing committee for the 2010 Olympics.
They say the exclusion of their sport from the roster violates their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"Little girls I'm working with don't understand why they can't grow up to be in the Olympics," said Karla Keck, the retired American ski jumper who said she left the sport because she ran out of competitive opportunities.
"I don't believe they should be asking this question in this day and age."
One after another, the women detailed stories of living on shoestring budgets in their parents' homes, working and going to school, all while training in the hopes of one day competing at the Olympics.
Morin said a lack of funding forced her to abandon the hope of training in Canada and move to the U.S., where she completed high school by correspondence.
"I had to get a dual citizenship and unfortunately not represent Canada anymore in my last year which is what made me decide to leave the sport," she said.
While other girls had fancy team jackets proudly declaring their national allegiance, Morin's was simply blank.
Though the suit was filed against Vancouver's Olympic organizing committee, known as VANOC, it's not the committee that actually decides which sports are included in the Games.
"We recognize that efforts are continuing by some to raise the profile and awareness of the issue, however, neither the facts nor our position have changed - it is not our decision to make," Cathy Preistner Allinger, executive vice-president of sports and Games operations for the committee, said in an e-mail statement on Thursday.
"The final decision lies with the IOC (International Olympic Committee), and we respect and accept the IOC's decision regarding women's ski jumping."
VANOC has 30 days to respond to the group's statement of claim.
The IOC voted in 2006 not to allow women's ski jumping into the 2010 Games, saying the sport has not yet developed enough and that it didn't meet basic criteria for inclusion.
But the lawyer for the nine women said he doesn't care who makes the rules. He said when the Games are being held in Canada, the organization putting them on is responsible for following the laws of the land.
"What VANOC did or didn't do to get to this position isn't my concern," said Ross Clark, who is handling the case pro bono.
"The situation we are dealing with right now is that women are not allowed to compete in jumping. And we say that is based on gender discrimination and you can't do that."
Clark said he hopes the case can be before a judge in the fall and a prompt decision will follow.
The lawsuit is the second action to be launched in Canada trying to force the inclusion of women's ski jumping at the 2010 Games.
Canadian jumpers filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission last year also arguing that the exclusion of the sport was discriminatory, but a settlement was reached that included a promise the federal government would attempt to lobby the IOC to include the sport.
"The Canadian Olympic Committee has formally requested that the IOC reconsider, the Government of Canada supports the inclusion of the women's event and VANOC has stated that they would make every effort to accommodate the event if it was asked to do so by the IOC," said Brent Morrice, the chairman of Ski Jumping Canada, in an e-mail to The Canadian Press.
"I understand the frustration by the athletes that have filed the lawsuit but as an organization we do not support a lawsuit against the organizing committee."
Since speaking over the phone with the IOC in February, talks have now progressed to a promise for a face-to-face meeting between the Canadian government and the IOC about ski jumping, the secretary of state for sport said Thursday.
Helena Guergis said she has also raised the issue at least five times since February as she encountered members of the IOC on her travels and will continue to push as hard as she can to give ski jumpers at voice at the international level.
"When I met with these young girls, I thought back and I think that as human beings, it's natural for us to say what would I do if I were in that position?," she said.
"And you know something? I've been a very similar position. And I gotta tell ya - if I were them, I'd be doing the same darn thing."
The women at Thursday's conference said they know they have the support of Canadian athletes, even if they're not on the lawsuit and admitted it would probably be easier if they were.
Morrice agreed with the women that as a sport, ski jumping is ready to be included at the Games.
As many as 1,000 women compete in ski jumping in 17 countries around the world, and about 100 are licensed to compete internationally, according to Deedee Corradini, the president of Women's Ski Jump USA and the former mayor of Salt Lake City, which hosted the 2002 Winter Games.
"We are not giving up. This is an issue we feel is the right thing to have happen and Canada and 2010 are the right time and right place to have this happen," she said.
"All we're asking for is one event for the women on the normal hill. We can fit it in. And wouldn't it be phenomenal for both Vancouver and the IOC to be able to say in 2010, we have just made history."
The rules around how an event gets admitted to the Games are complex and require that the sport itself meets a series of criteria as well as the event itself.
According to a fact sheet on the IOC's website, in order to be admitted to the Games, women's ski jump must be included twice in world or continental championship, be practised on three continents and in 35 countries and be admitted three years before the Olympic Games,
When the IOC voted not to include ski jump, it said other criteria were considered including global public and media interest, the social value of a sport, a direct emphasis on youth and development and the transparency of the judging system.
The first World Cup event in women's ski jump is next year, though women have been competing in continental cup events for the last few years.
Lindsey Van is one of them, an American jumper who set a record at the Whistler, B.C. Olympic Park Hill in March.
She jumped 105.5 metres. The longest jump made by a male athlete was 101.5 metres.
Despite that, she says, people refuse to see the sport as equal, and women are often forced to compete on substandard hills.
"I want to make this right for future girls in the sport," she said.
"I don't want to have to tell girls coming up that there is really no future for you. That hurts."
Is this what we need to do to get Halfpipe skiing in?