Women ski jumpers may appeal case
A group of women ski jumpers and their lawyers are considering an appeal to a British Columbia Supreme Court decision that may result in the athletes being excluded from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
On Friday, Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon ruled that, although barring female ski jumpers from competing constitutes discrimination, the court does not have the authority to force the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to include the sport.
The case originated when a group of 15 international women ski jumpers including two from Park City filed a gender-discrimination suit against the Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee (also known as VANOC), arguing that the committee had violated anti-discrimination statutes in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
VANOC countered that the charter does not apply to the organization because the Canadian government does not exert enough control over its operations.
The case was argued before Fenton in April, and athletes and supporters have been anxiously awaiting a decision for the past three months. The women were anticipating a court declaration that would either order VANOC to hold women’s ski jumping in 2010 or cancel ski-jumping events in Vancouver altogether.
"We were asking for a declaration that says that VANOC may not hold a men’s-only event," explained Deedee Corradini, president of Women’s Ski Jumping-USA. "VANOC would then go to the IOC and say, by law, we cannot hold a men’s only event, and we have to add the women."
In a 42-page decision, Fenton wrote that VANOC is governed by the Canadian Charter; however, it is not directly responsible for the exclusion of women’s ski jumping. The IOC determines which sports are included in the Games and the Canadian court system has no jurisdiction over an international entity, she noted.
The IOC contends that the basis for exclusion is that the women ski jumpers don’t meet Olympic criteria in terms of the number of women who compete and the number of countries represented. Ski jumping is the only Winter Olympics sport that allows men to compete but not women.
Following the court ruling, the IOC issued a statement that read, "While we are pleased that the Games can now proceed as planned, we strongly disagree with the court’s analysis that the IOC acted in a discriminatory manner."
Corradini says that her initial reaction to the ruling was "shock and disappointment." "We were cautiously optimistic that we were going to win," she said. "Our lawyers felt that we had a very strong case. We sat through five days of hearings, we listened to both sides, and we felt that the judge was sympathetic."
What makes the ruling hard to stomach for Corradini and the jumpers is that they feel they won 90 percent of the case. "We won on the discrimination issue and we won on the issue that VANOC is subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is a quasi-governmental entity," said Corradini. "[Fenton] just didn’t go that last 10 percent to say that, therefore, VANOC has to tell the IOC that if the men are going to jump, the women have to. And our lawyers think that has serious potential for an appeal."
On Tuesday morning, Corradini said that the group was actively considering filing an appeal. "We’re in discussions with the plaintiffs and we’ll make a decision by the end of the week," she said.
Should the group decide to appeal, the plaintiffs would present a record of the entire proceedings and a written argument to the Court of Appeals. The appeal would be heard by a panel of three judges and they would decide whether VANOC should be forced to go to the IOC and tell them they can’t host a men’s-only event.
"It still puts it back on the IOC, but we feel pretty comfortable that the IOC in the case would allow the women to jump," said Corradini.
Parkites Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome are among the women who have spent countless hours advocating for their sport. Van, the reigning world champion in women’s ski jumping, was also disappointed to hear the justice’s decision. "I was surprised and somewhat shocked," she says.
Van says she is committed to doing whatever it takes to continue to pursue the women’s bid. "At this point I have nothing to lose and only something to gain. I think pushing on is the best option for all of us and for our sport."
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