Friday, November 13, 2009

Women's Ski Jumping and VANOC

Today the legal effort to use the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to force the IOC and VANOC to allow the women to compete was essentially ended when their appeal was dismissed by a judge in Vancouver.

As I understand it the fundamentals of the case are as follows. All Olympic events are required by the IOC to have some form of world championship, either via single event or series, as well as national qualifiers to reach that level, to establish international seeding and Olympic eligibility. Women's ski jumping has so few participants and such a limited formal structure that these requirements were not met, and as a result the event was not allowed in. In an attempt to get around the IOC's refusal a number of the athletes and their representatives filed for an injunction from a Canadian court to force VANOC to allow the event over the IOC's objections.

the requirements of the IOC for inclusion were simply not met. Many other sports, including the case of Karate, which is near and dear to my heart, have been unable to get in for one reason or another - but this is an entirely separate kind of case. Ski jumping is in, the issue here is that there are either not enough participants to create the same competition structure that other athletes must pass to qualify or there is no organization to administer the same. Both of these are issues that can be addressed in order to assure access to future games, and the IOC has said as much.

While I am in general a passionate advocate of insuring equal treatment regardless of gender this does not seem to me to be a gender treatment issue. Women's ski jumping wasn't disallowed because it was for women, it was disallowed because every other athlete going to Vancouver had to compete for the right to go, and these ski jumpers would not have had to do so.

In a Twitter exchange with Senator Grant Mitchell he asked me:
@SenMitchell So what. Why can't we see past the bureaucratic to the just and equal?

This is a good point, and something we should always aspire to do - keep our eye on the principle and not get lost in the process. That said I still believe that the inclusion of women in every event shouldn't be a goal that trumps the ideal of elite competition which to me lies at the heart of the games. Set out a process by which every athlete in a given sport qualifies the same way, and once the best in the world gather may the best woman on the day win. Allowing some athletes in 'by the side door' in order to balance the number of men's and women's competitions demeans the accomplishments of the athletes concerned. In addition, since the IOC's decision was made based on clear criteria which the athletes could have met I fail to see how any of their rights were violated - they were simply asked to meet the same standards as other athletes.

Interestingly this line of thought is taking me into thinking about the Title 9 debate in the United States. As I would have to say I would have been a supporter of Title 9 the fact that my view of this case is somewhat different intrigues me. I shall have to come back to this again.


  1. Your facts are incorrect. FIS (the international federation) assessed the development of women's jumping and requested the IOC include it. Numbers of participants and number of nations equal or exceed those for other facility based winter sports such as luge and bobsled. There is no requirement for world championships under the current Olympic Charter, although women's jumping has had one (spring 2009). There is a long and well documented history of women's jumping growing over the years in spite of discrimination from within Europe.

  2. For some reason this comment only came through my email this morning - so I apologize for the tardy response. I would certainly have to agree that there is no reason of principle that women's jumping shouldn't be in the games, and the analogies with Bobsled and Luge are useful. I hadn't realized that FIS had made such a request, which is an important step and should assure the sport of its place in 2014 at least.