VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - A Canadian judge has rejected a bid by female ski jumpers to compete in next year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but agreed they were being discriminated against.
The International Olympic Committee is discriminating against the women by barring them from the 2010 Games, but that decision cannot be challenged under Canada’s civil rights laws, the court ruled on Friday.
“There will be little solace to the plaintiffs in my finding that they have been discriminated against; there is no remedy available to them in this court,” British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon said.
Ski jumping has been an Olympic sport since 1924, but is one of the few events in either the Winter or Summer Games to not have both a men’s and women’s competition. All new sports allowed into the Games must have both.
The IOC has refused to sanction women’s ski jumping in the Games, arguing that not enough women are competing in the sport worldwide for it to qualify as an Olympic event.
Friday’s court ruling comes after a group of 15 current and former international women ski jumpers sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee on the grounds that, as the host and organizer of the 2010 Games, VANOC was required to abide by Canadian law.
The women did not name the IOC in the suit, acknowledging that the committee, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, was not directly bound by Canadian civil rights laws.
NOT VANCOUVER‘S DECISION
VANOC has said that, while it is sympathetic to the women’s desire to compete, only the IOC had the authority to decide which sports would be included in Olympic competitions.
Justice Fenlon agreed that the decision on whether to include women ski jumpers was not VANOC’s to make.
“The IOC made a decision that discriminates against the plaintiffs. Only the IOC can alleviate that discrimination by including an Olympic ski jumping event for women in the 2010 Games,” Fenlon wrote.
The group of women, both current and former ski jumpers, dispute the IOC’s claim that there are not enough competitors internationally to qualify, and allege the IOC’s decision is motivated by sexism.
“It’s awful that we lost, but I‘m glad we tried,” said Canadian ski jumper Katie Willis.
The jumpers’ lawyers will have to study the court decision before deciding if there are grounds to appeal, a spokeswoman for the group said.
VANOC praised the decision, but said it hoped the women would be included in future Olympic Games.
“I think the judge did the best she could to sort out a very difficult matter,” said VANOC Chief Executive John Furlong.
The IOC also said it was pleased by the decision, but strongly disagreed with the court’s finding that it discriminated.
“As previously explained, our decision was based on technical issues, without regard to gender,” the committee said in a statement.
The judge said the IOC has promoted women’s participation in sports, but also noted that men’s ski jumping is also not widespread internationally it remains an Olympic sport out of tradition.
(British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver, Docket #: S083619)
Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson