The Old Boys of sport are making a Pan Am mess

Laura Robinson compares the lack of female canoe events at the Pan Am Games 2015 with the female ski jumpers' exclusion from the Vancouver Games 2010. Photo (c)


Comment by Laura Robinson
In the buildup to the Vancouver Olympics, Canadians were shocked to learn that the IOC could legally discriminate against female ski jumpers because their contract with VANOC resided in Switzerland, and gave the IOC carte blanche in terms of deciding what sports and events would be in the Games.

The B.C. Supreme Court said disallowing women from competition was discriminatory, but there was nothing it could do about it: VANOC was subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but the IOC was not. The Games went ahead and world champion Lindsey Van‚ one of the Flying Fourteen who challenged the Old Boys in court, watched, unable to defend her hill record at Whistler Olympic Park against the men.

As a people who believe in equality, Canadians do not like the idea of massive amounts of public funds going towards an event that discriminates against any group, but that is exactly where the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games are headed. Currently women are not allowed to compete in canoeing, many of the kayaking events, numerous weight-classes in the combative sports, and some shooting events. Women have canoed for thousands of years. The sport and mode of transportation is as old as the indigenous peoples who invented it -- much older than the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO), or the IOC, its big brother. But sport's Old Boys have decided women should not canoe at the Olympics or Pan Am Games.

In order to win the right to host the Pan Am Games, all three levels of government had to give PASO supreme authority over what sports and events were allowed in Toronto's Games; an exact replication of the contract that worked against female ski jumpers. PASO's headquarters are located in Mexico where, just like Switzerland, our Charter does not apply.

All three levels of government, as well as the bid and host corporations knowingly signed away the rights of female athletes to an organization comprised of 41 men and one woman. PASO, like the IOC, has no sexual harassment or assault policy to protect athletes. The best the IOC came up with was a "consensus statement" five years ago saying people should not harass and assault, and organizations like PASO should form a policy. Right. Unfortunately female athletes know from personal experience that sport's powerful men -- coaches, sponsors, administrators, etc -- have a long history of helping themselves to any athlete they want; after all they are the ones who choose and sponsor the teams.

The 2015 Pan Am Games could help change deeply sexist and dangerous practices, but if the fiasco over where the Hamilton Pan Am soccer stadium will be located is any indicator, it's going to be a long five years.

For reasons unknown to the rest of us, the Hamilton Ti-Cats football team thought it could dictate where the stadium will be built as they intended to use it post-Games. They wanted an East Mountain location without public transit, no safe place to walk or cycle, but giant highways nearby for those who insist on driving to watch their favorite guys play -- just like the gawdawful Scotiabank Place. The only role women have in the Canadian Football League is as cheerleaders; you can buy the new Ti-Cats cheerleader calendar on their website if you want to. Not one penny of public funds should go towards a stadium that is devoted to a men's professional, privately owned sport, especially one perpetuating an antiquated view of women.

The Ti-Cats have said they are not playing in the West Harbour location that Hamilton City Council voted for on Tuesday. Excellent. Design the stadium with collapsible bleachers and a track beneath with a great soccer field in the middle. Put in child care, saunas, cafés and gyms as they do in Europe. Now that's a Games legacy. The whole deal has become one big mess as Ontario, the feds, the organizing committee, and the Games CEO, ex-football player Ian Troop, trip over their own doublespeak. It must be a coincidence too that David Braley, the former owner of the Ti-Cats and present owner of the Toronto Argonauts and B.C. Lions, was the director of the bid corporation that won the Games and sat on the board of directors until Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed him to the Senate this spring.

Lack of sporting opportunities for women and public funds being used by private, male-only sports teams is the tip of this sporting iceberg. Women athletes, lawyers, educators and activists have come together in a way we haven't done since 12-year-old hockey player Justine Blainey took the Ontario Hockey Association to the Supreme Court of Canada and the Ontario Human Rights Commission when they wouldn't let her play on a boys' team in 1985. We won that case by the way, and are not prepared to allow yet another generation of girls to face discrimination and worse at the hands of the poo-bahs of sport. Look for the names of all of the above when we file our case at the Ontario and Canadian Human Rights Tribunals.

This comment piece first appeared in The Ottawa Citizen Special on August 14, 2010 and is reprinted at Laura Robinson is the author of Black Tights: Women, Sport and Sexuality. She is a former member of the national cycling team and former Canadian rowing champion.


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