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The shame about the Games

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Friday’s news that the BC Supreme Court has dismissed a bid by a group of women ski jumpers to compete in the 2010 Olympics is a blow to the women ski jumpers themselves, who hold the same Olympic dreams as their male counterparts.  It is also a blow to all Canada’s women, who have been led to believe that outright discrimination against women won’t stand up in our courts.

The judge found that the practice of excluding the women ski jumpers is in fact discriminatory, and that VANOC is subject to the Charter, but that only the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has the power to determine Olympic events.  The IOC, for its part, has assured us that the fact that men ski jumpers can compete, but women ski jumpers cannot is “not about gender”, but is instead a “technical issue”. (The men, like the women, come from a smaller number of countries than called for by regulation, but unlike the women, have competed in the Olympics since 1924.)

As a result of this ruling, and the earlier and ongoing failure of our political leaders to take a stand, there is going to be a huge international event on Canadian soil, watched by people all over the world, drawing unprecedented attention to the city of Vancouver, paid for with a lot of your tax dollars, occupying our democratically-elected government’s attention, and, did I mention, paid for with a lot of your tax dollars, and there will be formal, outright discrimination against women from this and other countries. 

Notwithstanding the judge’s concerns about jurisdiction, and VANOC’s contractual agreement with the IOC, this is as much a moral and political issue as a legal issue: the IOC’s rules, Canada’s relationship with the IOC, and even the elegance of the Olympic events schedule are being prioritized above the principles of non-discrimination and equality.  Our hard-earned rights to exclude from public funds any and all venues that exclude women are being pushed aside to accommodate an international organization that is practicing discrimination.

Canada could have made a powerful statement and, as an added bonus, complied with domestic law, by raising the issue early in negotiations with the IOC and saying something like “We are thrilled to have the Olympics in our country.  Our people won’t stand for discrimination though, and neither will we [fictional enlightened government].  So let’s put those talented and determined women ski jumpers in the program where they belong, and be done with it.  Right?  Right.”  Or, when the women started challenging the IOC and VANOC before Canadian courts, VANOC could have chosen to fight with the IOC to get the women in, rather than fighting the women in Canadian Courts to keep them out.  At any point at all, somebody, somewhere in any government in this country might have stood up and said “These are tax payer dollars, and much as we respect the IOC’s jurisdiction over the rules and regulations of the Games, there are certain things we just won’t compromise on”.   VANOC may be the organizing committee, and the IOC may have all the power over the Olympics, but if our democratically-elected government hosts and pays for the games, it has a duty to enforce the basic standards governing our country.  This is a political issue and needs a political response.

One of the women ski jumpers, interviewed on CBC radio, commented that the decision “just goes to show how powerful the IOC is”.  I would say that the situation demonstrates how discriminatory the IOC is, and how unwilling our leaders are to stand up for equality.

Today the women ski jumpers are saying they’ll keep fighting, and they need allies. Write to you Member of Parliament and ask them to do something to advance equality for men and women in sport at Vancouver’s Olympic Games.  Join the facebook group “Include female Ski Jumpers in the Olympics”.  I became the 2,831st member tonight, and there should be a lot more of us. Sign the petition and check out the facts at http://www.wsj2010.com/.

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