The story began in November 2006 when the International Olympic Committee rejected the inclusion of women's ski jumping for the Winter Games in Vancouver in 2010. IOC President Jacques Rogge explained that only 80 women were competing in the sport and including it in the 2010 Games would dilute the value of medals won in other events.
Even though nearly all Olympic sports have both a men's and women's event, the Games position towards ski jumping was to let it be a male-only competition. The IOC explained that its decision not to include women's ski jumping at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games was based on technical merit and wasn't discriminatory.
However a coalition of international women ski jumpers disagreed and filed a lawsuit against the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) last year challenging this decision arguing that their exclusion from the Vancouver Games violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. "The failure to include women's ski jumping events in the Games violates every woman's right to equal benefit under the law," according to the documents filed in British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver.
VANOC argued that the IOC decides which sports are allowed in the Games and that the Charter doesn't apply to it.
In order to be considered for inclusion in the Olympic Games, the IOC said past world championships were one of several criteria used to determine which of several possible new events would be included in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
"Events must have a recognized international standing both numerically and geographically, and have been included at least twice in world and continental championships," according to the statement, which was re-released by the IOC on Friday.
The statement said the decision not to include Curling Mixed Doubles and Women Ski Jumping in the 2010 Winter Games "was made as their development is still in the early stage thus lacking the international spread of participation and technical standard required for an event to be included in the programme."
But some say the IOC is using the technical merit justification as an excuse and that requirement was formally dropped by the IOC in 2007. They also pointed out that world championships for women's ski jumping were held this year in Liberec, Czech Republic.
Supporters of women's ski jumpers argue there are 135 women ski jumpers in 16 countries. This compares to other sports already in the Games like snowboard cross, which has 34 women from 10 countries, skier cross, which has 30 women from 11 nations, and bobsled, which has 26 women from 13 nations. They also argue that women's marathon was added to the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles after a single world championship in 1983.
Of note, the Canadian Government fully supported the lawsuit and "would try to convince the IOC to include women's ski jumping at the Vancouver Games." David Emerson, Canada’s federal minister responsible for the 2010 Games, said it’s “extremely disappointing” women are not being allowed to ski jump at the Olympics.
“Ski jumping is an important sport and we’re investing a lot in jumping and training facilities in Canada and to not have women able to participate on the same basis as men, to me, I just don’t think it’s right.”
While members of the Canadian ski team were vocal in their dissent, the United States Ski and Snowboard Association took a more diplomatic tact. The association is the governing body for ski sports in the U.S., Tom Kelly, vice-president of communication, refused to say if he thought women were being discriminated against.
“We have great respect for the process the IOC has for bringing the sport into the Olympics. We were disappointed when the IOC made it’s decision (on 2010.) We are very optimistic for 2014. The first world championships will be held next year and that is a critical event in the growth of the sport. When we get to the world championships, and the world sees what these women can do, that is a great message to send to the IOC.”
Sadly though – the battle for female ski jumpers to compete in the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver was lost.
In a ruling issued last week by the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon expressed sympathy for the women, but said the court doesn't have the authority to force the IOC to include the sport in the 2010 Games.
In her reasons for judgment, Fenlon agreed with VANOC that the issue is an IOC responsibility. While she conceded that women are being discriminated against, the responsibility for eliminating that discrimination is the IOC's, not VANOC's, she wrote.
Fenlon also sided with VANOC in its argument that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply in this case. The IOC is not governed by the Charter nor does it fall under this court's jurisdiction, she wrote.
After the ruling, the IOC issued a statement:
"While we are pleased that the Games can now proceed as planned, we strongly disagree with the court's analysis that the IOC acted in a discriminatory manner."
It repeats the IOC's explanation for the decision not to include women's ski jumping in the 2010 Winter Games: "Our decision was based on technical issues, without regard to gender."
Those technical issues they included the number of women ski jumping at an elite level and the number of countries competing in the sport and restating that too few women and countries compete to justify Olympic competition.
Fenlon addressed that directly in her: "If the IOC had applied the criteria for admission of new events to both men's and women's ski jumping events," she wrote, "neither group would be competing in the 2010 Games."
As more succinctly, as 16 year-old ski jumper Zora Lynch says "It’s not about the competition between the sports. It’s about gender equality and that kind of stuff."