Female jumpers file appeal
July 24, 2009
When the ruling concerning the women ski jumpers’ quest to compete in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics was announced two weeks ago, the athletes were down but not out.
The women went to their lawyer, Ross Clark, Q.C., to discuss the option of filing an appeal. According to Deedee Corradini, the president of Women’s Ski Jumping-USA, "Nobody wanted to appeal if we didn’t feel we had a strong reason to do so, but our lawyers really feel that we do have a strong case, and once we had those conversations with the jumpers, they were all for it."
On Monday, 14 of the 15 plaintiffs who filed the original gender-discrimination suit against the Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee (VANOC) submitted an appeal to the British Columbia Court of Appeals on Monday, July 20. Daniella Iraschko, a jumper from Austria, could not be reached at the time of the decision so she was not included as an appellant.
The appeal is based on the argument that VANOC must host the Games in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which prohibits gender discrimination.
The women have been fighting for inclusion as an Olympic sport since the International Ski Federation (FIS) voted to add them to the Nordic World Championships in 2006. A group of international jumpers instigated the lawsuit against VANOC in May of 2008 and argued their case in court this April.
British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon ruled that barring female ski jumpers from competing in the Games does constitute discrimination, and that VANOC is subject to anti-discrimination statutes in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, she did not order VANOC to go to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and say therefore, by law, women must be allowed to compete.
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"Our lawyers feel as though Justice Fenlon didn’t really respond to what we were asking for," Corradini said in an interview on Thursday.
"Instead of saying VANOC cannot host a men’s-only event, she brought in the IOC and said it is not subject to the (Canadian) charter," she explained. "Our argument is very narrow. It’s strictly that the court has already said that VANOC is subject to the charter, therefore, as the host and organizer of these games, VANOC cannot host a men’s only event. Our lawyers feel that we have a strong possibility of getting that done in this appeal."
The legal team for the jumpers has requested that the case be expedited in order to reach a decision in time to add the event to the 2010 Olympic schedule. The Games will be held February 12-28.
On Thursday, the women received a notice for a pre-hearing conference scheduled for Aug. 7. At that meeting, Clark and the counsel for VANOC, George Macintosh, will meet with one of the justices from the British Columbia Court of Appeals to discuss the case. Corradini said that Clark will ask the justice to waive the lengthy documents that normally go into preparing an appeal and to base the case off of Justice Fenlon’s ruling.
The jumpers hope that the court will schedule a hearing as early as September, at which time a panel of three judges would spend one or two days reviewing the case.
Corradini, who worked closely with organizers for the 2002 Winter Games as the mayor of Salt Lake City, said she does not believe that adding a women’s ski jumping event would cause undue stress for VANOC. The group has known about the possibility of the event being mandated since the original lawsuit was filed, she noted. "VANOC has said all along, ‘If we’re told that the women are to jump, we’ll make it happen.’ So they must have contingency plans for this going back to 2008. I’d be shocked if they don’t."
Corradini went on to point out that the women are asking for only one event, an individual competition on the normal hill. The men have three events the normal hill, large hill and team event. "The hill is there, the time is there, and they must already have thought about this," she said.
Jessica Jerome, a Park City ski jumper, said she feels good about the decision to appeal. "There’s no point in turning back now. We’ve gone this far, so we’re just trying to give it that last push. We have nothing to lose."
She said she feels confident that there’s still a chance she and other female jumpers could find themselves at the 2010 Games. "I know time is an issue at this point, but it’s not impossible."
Jerome and her fellow jumpers have been training throughout the summer and will begin competing next month. Many of the women will also perform at the Festival of Flight at the Utah Olympic Park on Saturday, July 25.
Should their dream of being able to compete for the Olympic gold in Vancoucer come to fruition, the women are prepared to pack their bags on a moment’s notice.
"They’re ready to go," said Corradini.