Sexism in sport: still a major problem?

LAURA ROBINSON, the Canadian freelance journalist who has authored several books about the perspectives on women in sport. She has chaired and spoke at a debate on gender & human rights in sport, on the penultimate day of Play the Game 2009 writes James Bourne.

Her discussion focussed on an intriguing case study concerning female ski jumpers, who are still not allowed to compete at the Olympic Games despite constant barracking to reverse the decision.

Given that the 2010 Winter Olympics are being hosted in Vancouver, this particular injustice is close to Robinson’s heart.

In 1978 Robinson – then one of the top female cyclists in Canada – was not allowed to compete at that year’s Commonwealth Games in Edmonton because there were no events for female cyclists in the Games. This situation would not be resolved until 1990. Even today, more male cyclists – 5 male cyclists per nation as opposed to 3 female – compete at the Summer Olympics; a number described by Robinson as “inequitable.”

Robinson’s criticism was directed at the Vancouver Organising Committee (VANOC), the official organising committee for the 2010 Olympics, as well as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who voted in 2006 not to allow women’s ski jumping in the 2010 Games and are stubbornly refusing to change. They claimed at the time that the sport hadn’t been developed fully enough. Robinson said: “VANOC had agreed with the IOC that ski-jumping should not be an event for women.”

However, certain information appears to contradict this theory. At the 2009 Nordic World Ski Championships, women were allowed to compete in ski-jumping for the first time. The winner, American Lindsey Van, posted the longest distance on the normal hill with her second attempt of 97.5m. The second jump of the winner in the equivalent male competition, Austrian Wolfgang Loitzl, clocked a distance of 99.0m; hardly proof that the women’s sport hasn’t been developed enough.

A group of ski-jumpers – known as the ‘flying 15’ – have sued VANOC for what they believed was gender discrimination in a case that is ongoing.

They have used section 15.1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as the basis of their case, which reads: “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability.”

Robinson summed up: “There are two solutions. The solution that they [the ski-jumpers] would prefer is that they organise a ski-jumping event for women.

“The only other solution, under Canadian law, is that there be no events for men in ski-jumping.”

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