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Women’s ski jumping ratchets up the pressure

Canadian government to take up cause to IOC

The former mayor of Salt Lake City and current president of Women’s Ski Jumping U.S.A. called on Canadian and U.S. governments and VANOC to put pressure on the International Olympic Committee to reverse its recent decision to exclude women’s ski jumping from the 2010 schedule.

Deedee Corradini, who was the mayor during the 2002 Winter Games, held a press conference during the Canadian National Ski Jumping Championships in Whistler Olympic Park this past weekend to draw attention to the sport, and pulled no punches in.

“My understanding is it’s against federal and provincial law in Canada to spend government money on facilities that discriminate,” she said. “To have a men’s only sign on these ski jumps seems to be discriminatory and contrary to Canada’s own human rights act.”

Although women weren’t exactly banned from the jumps — America’s Lindsay Van even out-jumped the top men on Saturday’s competition by about four metres — it’s been a sore spot for female competitors since the IOC rejected a recent application to add women’s ski jumping to the Olympic program in 2010.

Women’s ski jumping also enjoys wide support from VANOC, which has pledged to accommodate the sport if approved by the IOC, as well as Ski Jumping Canada. Members of provincial and federal governments also back the inclusion of women’s ski jumping, including Colin Hansen, B.C.’s Olympic minister, and David Emerson, the federal minister responsible for the 2010 Games.

Both responded to Corradini’s challenge by saying they support women’s ski jumping, and Emerson pledged to work on the case with Helena Guergis, the minister of state for sport, when he returns from a trade trip to Asia next week.

The biggest boost for the cause came on Tuesday, when the federal government announced a settlement with a group of female ski jumpers that filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission almost a year ago. The federal government agreed to lobby the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to include the sport, and to bring the topic up at a meeting with IOC officials in Vancouver in February. IOC president Jacques Rogge will be part of the delegation visiting Vancouver, and will meet with Helena Guergis.

“This is not a criteria issue, this is a women’s issue,” said Guergis, who also rejected the argument that it might be too late to add women’s ski jumping to the schedule in 2010.

Joan McIntyre, the MLA for Whistler, also released a statement in support of the ski jumpers, pledging to add her voice in support. She also pledged to offer her support to help ski jumping meet the IOC’s criteria in time for 2010.

“We still have two years to 2010, and if the IOC is saying that it’s not developed enough as a sport to meet their criteria for inclusion in 2010, there may be things we can do to speed that along, like hosting events that elevate the sport.”

But while Canada’s female ski jumpers are pleased to have the support of the provincial and federal governments, there are still other outstanding issues in the jumpers’ human rights complaint that have still to be addressed. One of those issues is funding — Sport Canada and Own the Podium 2010 currently only provide funding for sports organizations and athletes that are contenders in Olympic and Paralympic disciplines. As long as the IOC does not recognize women’s ski jumping, the athletes will be on the hook for most of their own training and competition costs.

The final decision on whether to accommodate the sport lies with the IOC, which rejected women’s ski jumping in February on the basis that it was not developed enough at this stage. In reply to all the recent queries from international media, they released a statement standing by their decision.

According to the IOC, there are not enough athletes and countries competing right now to meet their criteria for inclusion into the Olympics. As well, the first world championship for the sport will not take place until 2009.

The IOC said it would continue to monitor the progress of the sport, and could possibly add ski jumping and women’s Nordic combined (ski jumping and cross-country ski event) for 2014.

As for the IOC’s concerns, Corradini pointed out that there were 135 women in the sport from 16 countries. That’s more than in ski cross, she said, which was accepted as an Olympic sport for 2010, and more than sliding sports that are already in the Games.

Brent Morrice, head of Ski Jumping Canada, said they would do everything they can to move women’s ski jumping into the Olympic Games.

“We’ve been fighting this battle for a number of years now and we’ll continue to fight,” he said. “We know how hard these girls train, and they deserve a chance to show what they can do. Just look at today, where a woman out-jumped all the men.

“There’s no demonstration sports in the Olympic Games anymore, you’re either in or your out, so we don’t have that option. We’ll continue to do what we can to put pressure on the IOC, but at this point I have to say I’m doubtful they’re going to reverse their decision. I’m hopeful, but at the same time I’m doubtful.”

The Pique attempted to contact the IOC to get their reaction to this story, but had not heard a received a reply at press time.