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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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April 20, 2009 2:13 PM

Women's ski-jump lawsuit opens in Vancouver

Posted by Ron Judd

The lawsuit brought by female ski jumpers against the Vancouver Organizing Committee for failing to allow women's jumping in the 2010 Winter Games is under way in Vancouver.

The suit, which presents interesting legal jurisdiction questions, alleges that allowing men, but not women, to jump in the Games is a violation of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which bars gender-based discrimination.

Female jumpers, including Lindsey Van, the American world champion who was in attendance this morning, have long lobbied the International Olympic Committee for inclusion in the Olympics, which have hosted men's jumping since the inaugural Winter Games of 1924.

IOC officials have insisted the sport is not practiced widely enough, although that position seems at odds with their decision to allow other, newer women's sports, such as snowboard and ski cross, both of which have proven popular with television audiences. The international group argues that awarding medals in a sport with insufficient participants would "dilute the value" of Olympic medals in general.

The women's jumping group has learned the same lesson as other groups seeking inclusion or redress: The IOC is not an easy bunch to sue.

Attorneys for the group have said they are suing VANOC, not the IOC itself, because Canadian courts have jurisdiction over VANOC. Canadian law also is clear on gender discrimination. Earlier attempts by VANOC to have the suit dismissed on jurisdictional grounds were unsuccessful.

But VANOC continues to insist that the IOC is not beholden to the Canadian Constitution, and says the local organizing group can't set IOC policy. In fact, its sole responsibility is ensuring events already sanctioned by the IOC are carried out.

An attorney for the ski jumpers argued in today's court opening that VANOC's failure to include women is a "direct assault on the human dignity" of the athletes," and accused VANOC of "blind acceptance" of the IOC's outdated mindset and policies.

Nordic combined is the only other winter sport practiced by men, but not women. Inclusion of female ski jumpers could lead to a breaking down of that barrier, as well.

Attorneys for the women are expected to argue, in fact, that the court should insist on a ban on all male-exclusive sports in the Vancouver Games unless the women are allowed to participate.

Today's coverage from the Vancouver Province, the Vancouver Sun, and Reuters Canada.

More information about U.S. women's ski jumping is here. And you can watch the trailer for a new film, Fighting Gravity, about the plight of female jumpers on You Tube.

I've already opined in this space that women's inclusion in ski jumping is a logical step. The sport has met all the reasonable criteria laid out by the IOC -- and gone a step further than some other new sports. What more do these women have to do?

Whether the sport can and should be forced upon Olympic organizers at this relatively late date is open to question.

But it wouldn't require earth-shattering changes to the program. They've already got the ski jumps, for God's sake. Canada, and the IOC, should do the right thing here: Clear some space in the schedule and let the women fly.

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Blogroll and links The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information. Olympic news site from one of the Games' primary sponsors.
NBC Olympics columnist Alan Abrahamson's column/blog
Chicago Tribune Olympic sports writer Philip Hersh's blog U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site. Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription). News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions. Beijing Organizing Committee Web site. Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site. London 2012 Summer Games site. Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site. Candidate city Chicago's summer 2016 bid committee site.
Olympic swimmer Tara Kirk's highly entertaining WCSN blog
Bellevue Olympian Scott Macartney's WCSN alpine ski-racing blog
Other WCSN Olympic athlete blogs.