PtG Article 23.02.2007

Female ski jumpers challenge IOC for breach of human rights

A group of female ski jumpers from Canada has filed a complaint with Canada’s Human Rights Commission as a way to get the Canadian government to pressure the IOC on its decision not to include women’s ski jumping in the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. The ski jumpers say IOC’s decision discriminates them.

Ski jumping and Nordic combined are the last male-only events at the Olympic winter games. Female ski jumpers have been campaigning for years to get included in the Olympic programme and last year the International Ski Federation (FIS) voted in favour of hosting a world championship in 2009 which is a prerequisite for an event to be included in the Olympic Games. FIS also voted 114 to 1 in favour of getting female ski jumping on the Olympic programme.

But the IOC’s Executive Board disappointed the women ski jumpers when it met in November last year to discuss the issue. The board decided not to include the sport in the 2010 games.

”The sport is not mature enough to be ready for 2010,” Giselle Davies, the IOC’s spokeswoman told the Canadia newspaper Vancouver Sun.

The ski jumpers do not buy IOC’s maturity argument and call the IOC’s decision discrimination and points to the long history of ski jumping for women. According to the Vancouver Sun the International Ski Federation has ranked more than 140 female ski jumpers and there are 22 events held on three continents in eight major ski jumping nations including the US, Japan, Norway, Italy, Austria, Germany, Slovenia and Canada. 

A case of discrimination?

In Canada, parents to talented female ski jumpers are trying to make use of the fact that the Olympic Games in 2010 will be held in Canada. Jan Willis, the mother of 15 year old ski jump champion Katie Willis, has filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission on behalf of her daughter and her teammates.

Jan Willis argues that Canada must challenge the IOC’s decision simply because taxpayers’ money will be spent on building Olympic venues that not everyone can compete on.

”The bottom line is it is discrimination. They are contributing to these facilities, yet women are not allowed to compete on them. I think that goes against the grain of most people’s values in Canada,” Jan Willis told the Canadian Press when she filed the complaint.

It is unclear what kind of power the Canadian Human Rights Commission could have over the IOC on this issue but part of the reason for filing the complaint is also get the government’s attention and get it to act, Jan Willis’ lawyer explains.

Meanwhile the IOC maintains that it is misleading and unfair to label the decision on ski jumping a gender issue and call it discrimination.

Dick Pound, Canada’s permanent member of the IOC, tells the Vancouver Sun that he hopes the girls do not waste their time in making this a human rights issue:

”That’s silly and all that will do is piss people off. That’s not an issue at all. What happens is if you file one of these actions, it gives everyone who doesn’t want to act an excuse not to.”

He also says that time has run out for the ski jumpers because the Olympic Charter says that no new sports can be added within four years of the event.