Monday, January 7, 2008 - LatestNews
Olympic dreams of female ski jumpers take flight

- By: Patrick Brethour -

VANCOUVER The International Olympic Committee is under growing pressure to open the 2010 Winter Games to female ski jumpers, with the federal government voicing support for the excluded athletes - and striking a compromise deal on a human-rights complaint.

David Emerson, the senior minister responsible for the 2010 Games, said he found it "extremely disappointing" that women are not allowed to compete in the Olympic ski jump event.

"Ski jumping is an important sport and we're investing a lot in jumping and training facilities in Canada and to not have women able to participate on the same basis as men, to me, I just don't think that's right," he said, responding to a news conference in Whistler held by supporters of the female ski jumpers.

He vowed to raise the issue with Helena Guergis, minister of state for sport, upon his return from a two-week trade mission to Asia.

The controversy over excluding women from Olympic competition came to a head last February, when Jan Willis, mother of 16-year-old ski jumper Katie Willis, filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission on behalf of her daughter and three other teenaged athletes.

The complaint contended that the federal government had condoned the discriminatory decision of the IOC by providing $607-million in funding for the games, part of which was used to build the Olympic ski jump facility in the Callaghan Valley near Whistler. "The facility constructed with financial support from the federal government essentially bears a 'Men Only' sign and we assert that such discrimination is contrary to the Canadian Human Rights Act," the complaint stated. It also noted that the exclusion from Olympic competition means that female ski jumpers do not have access to federal funds under the Own the Podium 2010 program; some of that money comes from Sport Canada.

Ms. Willis said she could not discuss details of the settlement, but noted that the commission will have to ratify the deal.

The athletes' lawyer, Nina Reid, said her clients and the federal government have now reached a "mutually acceptable agreement" during mediation talks. She could not say what form the settlement, to be formally announced later this week, will take. But the complaint lays out two acceptable solutions: include women's ski jumping in the 2010 Games, or take other measures to offset their exclusion.

Those measures could include funding an international-level women's competition in 2010, and providing federal funds for women ski jumpers equivalent to the money they could have received if they were eligible for Olympic competition.

In November of 2006, the IOC voted to exclude women from ski jumping in 2010, keeping the event as a men-only competition. A month later, the IOC said it would not reverse the decision, and that it was too late to add the event in any case - there would not be enough time for venues to be constructed, or for organizers and athletes to prepare.

However, the Vancouver Olympics organizing committee said yesterday that the venues and its schedule both make it possible for women to compete, should the IOC so decide. And Deedee Corradini, president of Women's Ski Jumping USA, said two years is more than enough time to allow for women to compete in ski jumping. Ms. Corradini, the former mayor of Salt Lake City, said the 2002 Winter Games in Utah managed to include women's bobsleigh and skeleton as new events within a similar time.

Ms. Corradini, who held a news conference at the Canadian ski jumping championships in Whistler over the weekend, said the exclusion of the women jumpers is a blot on the 2010 Games' otherwise praiseworthy effort. "There's only one thing missing in Vancouver 2010, and that's gender equity."

The exclusion of women is a quirk of history, and Olympic policy. Any new Olympic event added since 1991 must include competition for men and women, but ski jumping has been around since the 1924 Olympics - exempting the sport from the gender-equality requirement. Despite the IOC's protestations that women's competitions aren't up to the Olympic standards set by men, the sport is perhaps best known among Canadians from the enthusiastic performance of Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, the hapless British ski jumper who finished dead last in the 1988 Calgary Olympics.

With files from the Canadian Press

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