Friday, 23 May 2008
By Vanessa Pierce
New lawsuit targets VANOC
in jumping fight
VANCOUVER, B.C. — The athletes named as plaintiffs in the
lawsuit filed in the British Columbia Supreme Court spoke out Thursday
at a press conference in the hopes of ensuring that women ski jumpers
have the same Olympic opportunities as male ski jumpers.
“I’m here because I’ve dedicated my life to
ski jumping,” said U.S. Ski Team jumper Lindsey Van at the
press conference. “I want to make this right for future girls
of the sport. This is not right any more. It has to change. I don’t
want to have to tell girls coming up that I will be coaching that,
‘There really is no future for you.’”
On Wednesday, a lawsuit was filed against the Vancouver Olympic
Organizing Committee for discriminating against women’s ski
jumpers under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The women
are asking the court for an injunction requiring VANOC to include
women's ski jumping in the Games, or, alternatively, to exclude
men's ski jumping if it decides to also exclude women.
Ski jumping will be the only sport in the 2010 Olympic Winter
Games that will not include competition for the opposite gender.
As a result of the IOC decision, Canadian ski jumpers filed a complaint
with the Canadian Human Rights Commission a year ago, but a settlement
was reached promising the Canadian government would attempt to lobby
the IOC to include the sport. They Canadian Olympic Committee has
formally requested that the IOC reconsider.
Clark, Q.C., a partner at Davis LLP, is spearheading the more
proactive approach with this lawsuit. He is offering his services
pro bono for the plaintiffs in the case that include U.S. jumpers
Van and Jessica Jerome, and a number of other top-10 internationally
ranked female ski jumpers in the world, including athletes from
Norway, Germany, Austria and Slovenia. Marie-Pierre Morin, a retired
Canadian ski jumping national champion and Karla Keck, a retired
American national champion are plaintiffs as well.
Clark will argue that VANOC is carrying out the policies of all
Canadian law from federal to municipal. “In doing so,”
he said, “they are subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights
and Freedoms and as we all know it sets up the fundamental values
that Canadians hold dearest. One of the things in the charter is
gender equity, and we say because VANOC is carrying out government
policy, because of that, it is bound by the rights and freedoms.”
“They are the ones who are organizing it,” said Clark,
about why targeting VANOC. “They are the ones responsible
for the facilities. They are the ones responsible for the events
and they are running the Games. … Therefore we are going to
put forward the argument that you [VANOC] have to — it’s
a matter of Canadian law — that you have gender equity in
At the press conference, the athletes, one by one, told their
stories about training six days a week, living on shoestring budgets
with their parents in order to afford competing in a sport that
offers little in sponsorship dollars or prize purses — all
in order to someday compete at the Olympics. Women’s Ski Jumping-USA
President Deedee Corradini explained that this decision is hurting
the future of the sport. Jumpers are quitting because the highest
international level for women, Continental Cup, is still one step
below men’s World Cup level and they can't aspire to the Olympic
Games. The IOC has refused to allow women to compete in 2010 pointing
to a number of factors that the plaintiffs in this case say can
be easily refuted (see subhead below).
“How long do we have to wait?” Corradini asked. “We’re
losing an entire generation of ski jumpers.”
Van, 23, and Jerome, 21, said that they are plaintiffs on principle.
They may not be able to compete in 2010 and likely too old in 2014,
but they can speak out on behalf of the jumpers to come. “Over
the years, I have seen many talented young women quit because there
is no higher level [of competition],” Jerome said. “I
want to see the girls younger than me in the next generation not
struggle with this and see them have an opportunity.”
Jerome said internationally women have struggled to prove their
ability when “they take us to the worst ski jumps in the world.
They take us to facilities that shouldn’t even be jumped by
men or women. They make us jump in the worst conditions possibly
imagined. By putting us in those types of situations, they are trying
to make a point that we can’t handle it but then again it’s
a double standard because they don’t make the men do that.”
America's Jessica Jerome is also a plaintiff (USSA).Jerome previously
told SR that an example of the bias was at the world-famous Holmenkollen
in Norway, where in 2005 the women were forced to compete in terrible
weather conditions and, consequently, didn’t jump that far.
Women’s competitions are no longer held there.
The plaintiffs also argued that they grew up competing against
men and should be treated the same, especially since they continue
to prove their skills on the world stage. Something needs to change,
“I competed alongside the men until 2002,” said Karla
Keck, a retired U.S. national champion. “Many of the boys
I grew up jumping with have gone on to compete at the Olympics.
When I was 14 in 2002, I competed in a men’s Continental Cup
… in order to be able to compete on the men’s World
Cup circuit or to go to the Olympics you have to have points in
men’s Continental Cup events. Currently, today I’m the
only woman to have scored a men’s Continental Cup point. After
that competition, women were banned from ever competing in men’s
competitions again and we were given our own circuit to compete
in. So essentially, there was no way we could ever go to the Olympic
Games or compete at the World Cup level.”
Jerome recently proved, again, that women are pushing the sport
for both genders.
“I had the opportunity to jump here in Whistler in January
right when the jump opened,” Jerome said. “It’s
a great facility. It’s one of the best ski jumps I’ve
ever jumped in the world and I was able to set the hill record on
the K-90 meter at 105 and a half meters. I think that says a lot
for our sport considering there are males and females [jumping]
there. It says a lot that a woman can set the hill record. I think
that was a good time and place to show our skill level and our readiness
for the Olympics.”
IOC’s original decision causes the backlash
“The IOC is using two arguments, one that you haven’t
had [a] world championships and two that you don’t have universality,”
Corradini told SR last winter.
“When [IOC] admitted skicross, that was the same time they
told us no,” Corradini said. “If you look at the numbers
of women only on one continent that had been competing at that time
in 2006, we are so far ahead of where skicross is. And the bottom
line is, why did they want skicross? Because it’s an exciting
new sport and they wanted it for the men but they were forced to
include the women even though the women are way behind where we
are in ski jumping. So the unfairness of the situation is just ridiculous.”
Since 1991, the International Olympic Committee ruled that they
must include a women’s sport for every new men’s sport
it adds. Loophole: ski jumping, one of the six original Olympic
Winter Games sports, which was included in the 1924 Games —
for men. Technically, it’s not a new sport for women, and
therefore, the IOC does not have to include it.
Nonetheless, to rebuff the IOC’s main arguments, Corradini
said that women’s ski jumping will have its first worlds in
2009, but said four junior worlds will have taken place by 2010,
so shouldn’t that count for something? “If they want
to stick to the technical, we haven’t had two ‘senior’
world championships, that is true,” she said, “but the
answer to that is we will have had five world championships even
though four are juniors.”
As for “universality,” Corradini said compared to
other sports that have been included since 1991, ski jumping shows
the strongest global participation numbers of all. According to
her statistics, women’s ski jumping in 2006-07 had 83 women
from 14 nations. In comparison, snowboardcross had 34 women from
10 nations; ski cross 30 women, 11 nations; bobsled 26 women, 13
nations; skeleton 39 women, 12 nations; and luge 45 women, 17 nations
(the only sport with more countries participating).
VANOC frustrated by women’s ski jumping efforts
Earlier on Thursday, VANOC head John Furlong told reporters that
he was frustrated that VANOC is the target, according to Canada’s
Globe and Mail. "What's frustrating is that this is not in
our jurisdiction at all," Furlong told the newspaper. "It's
really a matter for the sport to work out with the IOC. The sport
knew the process, it participated, and it wasn't successful."
VANOC will be given 30 days to reply to the writ — which includes
arguments that have not been proven in court — before the
matter proceeds to trial.
Clark expects that a hearing will take place sometime in the fall,
and a decision made shortly after that.
To prove universal support, the women’s ski jumping community
posted a petition on www.wsj2010.com
that they hope will garner at least 100,000 signatures from supporters
across the globe.