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Female ski jumpers sue VANOC

Law firm suggests exclusion is against Canadian law

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Canada’s female ski jumpers have made their case for inclusion in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games several times recently, bringing the matter to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2007 and lobbying different levels of government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2008.

Now, with the IOC refusing to revisit their 2006 decision not to include women’s ski jumping in 2010, the ski jumpers are getting ready to make their case to the B.C. Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, a Vancouver law firm filed a statement of claim against the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) on behalf of a group of ski jumpers from around the world. The ski jumpers claim that VANOC is subject to Canadian laws which prohibit the use of public money to fund venues that exclude women.

Deedee Corradini, the former mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah and a leading advocate for women’s ski jumping, said the sport currently meets all IOC requirements — despite IOC claims to the contrary — and that the ski jumpers were left with no choice but to take VANOC to court.

“It is partly out of frustration because we have tried everything we could think of up to now,” she said. “The IOC keep saying that women haven’t earned the right to compete on technical merits, but if someone looks at the actual statistics of our sport versus other sports — skeleton, luge, bobsleigh, snowboarding, ski cross — there are more women, in more countries competing at an elite level.

“There’s also a misconception that has been mentioned in the press that there’s a requirement for an event to have at least two world championships and for a set number of countries to take part, and both are false. In 2007 the IOC changed Olympic charter section 46 and took out those requirements… Now it’s totally up to the IOC.”

According to Corradini, there are more than 135 carded women from 16 countries ski jumping, which is more representation than in the sport of snowboardcross, which was added in 2006, and ski cross, which was added for 2010. Adding ski jumping to the Games would increase their numbers further, while opening more events to the jumpers.

The female ski jumpers have already competed on the normal jump at Whistler Olympic Park, with American jumper Lindsay Van setting a record on the jump.

“There are three men’s ski jumping events… and we’re just asking for one event,” said Corradini, adding that experts have looked over scheduling and other logistics to confirm that there is room for a women’s event. “If we have to bus women up from Vancouver to find beds for them, then we’ll find the beds. It’s just not that big a deal to add one event.”

Because public money was used to build the jumps, and the land was donated by the province of British Columbia, lawyers from Davis LLP — who have taken on the case pro bono — maintain that VANOC cannot prevent women from competing.

Corradini agrees, adding that the IOC has no jurisdiction in Canada and cannot tell VANOC to override Canadian law.

“The Canadian Charter (of Rights and Freedoms) is very specific,” she said. “The perspective that our lawyers have is that the IOC can’t tell Canada to break its own laws. VANOC, as a quasi-governmental entity… is also subject to the laws of Canada.”

The ski jumpers have been told by their lawyers that they can probably expect a ruling as early as this fall.

If the suit is successful and VANOC is forced to host women’s ski jumping in 2010, it’s unknown what status that event will have — the IOC no longer holds demonstration sports, and is the official sanctioning body for all Olympic events.

The Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS) brought the matter of women’s ski jumping to the IOC in 2006, but was told it was not developed enough yet for the Games. However, according to Corradini the jumpers themselves have been petitioning for inclusion since 1998, and were confident that FIS would succeed.

“We’ve now been told to wait until 2014,” she said. “We’re not willing to wait anymore. We would lose a whole generation of women ski jumpers… We’re just striving for the same event men have had since 1924.”

Earlier this year the Canadian ski jumpers settled their human rights complaint on the condition that the Canadian government lobby the IOC to include the sport in the 2010 Olympics.

VANOC and the IOC have yet to comment on the civil suit, although Ski Jumping Canada has gone on record saying that while it supports the sport it does not support the suit.

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