With strict laws enforcing equality in treatment for all Canadian citizens, we should all be proud bearers of the maple leaf — especially with the onset of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. For a large group of ski jumpers hoping to compete in these games however, these laws have all but fallen short of reality.
Canadian female athletes like Cindy Klassen (speed skater), Jamie Salé (figure skater), Sandra Schmirler (curler) and Beckie Scott (cross-country skier) have all left lasting impressions in their respective sports. The dedication and success of these women inspire up-and-coming athletes to excel in the same way. Many, like Klassen and Scott, also go further to establish facilities and programs to make this future success possible. These are all people who have become prominent role models in having the chance to showcase their excellence to the world through the Olympics.
Recently, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld a ruling barring women from competing in ski jumping at the Olympic level, making it the only sport in the Winter Olympics to have such a restriction. For female ski jumpers around the world, this has dashed long-held dreams of competing in these games. The female ski jumpers who fought the ruling argued that their inability to compete was in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it essentially withholds the athletes’ right to participate solely because of their sex.
The importance of female Olympic athletes highlights how absurd these restrictions are today.
There are two parties involved in this debacle: the Vancouver-based Organizing Committee (VANOC), which has won the bid to host the Olympics, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which presides over everything else. As it goes, the IOC draws the itinerary for the Olympics, while VANOC prepares its venues accordingly. Like all bureaucracy, this two-tiered Olympic government effectively dissipated the responsibility of maintaining guaranteed rights at these games. In the end, Justice Anne Rowles dismissed the inclusion of ski jumping on the basis that VANOC did not have control over events in the games. She also stated that the IOC was not within reach of Canadian law. With no one to hold personally accountable, these women had run into a litigious dead end — and with the Olympics looming just months away, chances of finding alternative routes appear slim.
It is certainly easier on the conscience to believe that no one is blameworthy — this may be very well the case; however, that is not to say that the consequences will also be nullified. Aside from the several dozen ski jumpers who have had their lives put on an indefinite hold, the Canadian government — and all Canadian citizens — will also have to grin and bear the situation that has put helpless Canada amidst the cross-fire, like so many times before (not to mention while using our tax money in the appeal process). The Canadian government may find relief in justifying its own helplessness: that rights belonging to all citizens in this country cannot extend beyond its borders. So are we to think that the principles of human rights are non-existent for all non-Canadians?
The IOC defends withholding a female event in ski jump on the basis of its long-held rules. According to these rules, a sport cannot become an Olympic event until it has had two world championships, as they figure that sports that have not met this requirement do not have enough public interest. While this measure is harmless (and maybe even beneficial) as it stands, combine apparent discrimination and throw in the backdrop that is modern society, and conflicts inevitably brew. You cannot justify violating human rights with tradition without instigating anger, and this is exactly what the IOC has done and what the B.C. Court of Appeal has essentially condoned by refusing to assert Canadian principle on the international stage.
While it may be a bold move, the Canadian government, with VANOC as its representative, should maintain a firm stance for women’s ski jump in the 2010 Olympics. Although VANOC may not have control over Olympics events, they will nevertheless be occurring on Canadian soil. When athletes and their supporters arrive from all over the world for a little over two weeks, it will not be the IOC that they thank for the experience — it will be VANOC and Canada. This same association was what led the female ski jumpers to put VANOC on trial for breaching the charter, and similarly, will be what Canadians notice when they see that these athletes have been denied participation in the games. Especially now, a time when the government is trying to suggest a new, more assertive Canadian identity to immigrants applying for citizenship, there is more reason than ever to allow these women to compete, and the rest of us to be proud to be Canadian.