VANOC releases defence statement to ski jumpers’ suit 

The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympics (VANOC) released a statement of defence on May 30 claiming that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply to the international sport of women’s ski jumping or the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The statement was released on Monday, one week after a group of ski jumpers filed a statement of claim the previous week against the Olympic organizers on the basis that their exclusion from the 2010 Games was discriminatory.

However, while they claim that the charter doesn’t apply, VANOC used the opportunity to again state their support for women’s ski jumping.

“VANOC would readily support women’s ski jumping in the 2010 Games if the IOC authorized women’s ski jumping to be part of the Games,” read one part of the statement. “VANOC has actively encouraged the use by women of the ski jumping facilities at Whistler Olympic Park since the opening of such facilities and will continue to do so to assist in the further development of the sport.”

In 2006, the IOC heard an application to add women’s ski jumping to the Games schedule in 2010, but voted against it on the basis that the sport was not developed enough at this stage. Female ski jumpers around the world have rejected that argument, claiming more participating nations and athletes than other Olympic sports including sliding sports and the recently added sport of ski cross.

The ski jumpers claim that excluding female ski jumpers is against Canadian law, given that the venues were partly built by taxpayer money and that Canadian law prohibits spending public money on facilities that are exclusive to gender or race. They believe that VANOC, the IOC’s agent in hosting the Games in Vancouver and Whistler, is ultimately subject to Canadian law and can be forced to host ski jumping events by the courts.

In their statement of defence, VANOC argued that the charter only applies to federal and provincial governments, while VANOC — a recipient of government funding — is technically a private corporation.

If public funding is found to be grounds for applying the charter to VANOC, VANOC argues that the charter still wouldn’t apply because of provisions in the charter that allowed for reasonable limits.

Canada’s female ski jumpers have already won a small victory, agreeing to drop their suit at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in exchange for the federal government’s support in lobbying for the addition of ski jumping to the 2010 Games. Federal sports secretary Helena Guergis is currently working to set up a meeting with the ski jumpers and the IOC, but has not been successful.

After a lot of support but little progress — the IOC once again rejected the sport on the basis that the medals would dilute the status of other medals presented at the Games because of the relatively small number of athletes competing globally — the ski jumpers took the unusual step of filing a discrimination suit against VANOC.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said that ski jumping would be added when the sport met the IOC’s technical criteria. However, Rogge did not address the fact that the IOC has overlooked their technical criteria in the past when deciding to include other sports, or the discrepancy between numbers. Rogge also claimed the sport of women’s ski jumping has just 80 athletes, while the ski jumpers themselves claim 135 carded jumpers representing 16 nations — more than ski cross or women’s skeleton, says Deedee Corriandi, the former mayor of Salt Lake City who is leading the fight to have women’s ski jumping in the Olympics.

The ski jumpers are being represented in their Supreme Court suit pro bono by Vancouver law firm Davis LLP. A resolution is expected in late 2008.

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