Pound should jump on board

Andrew Bucholtz
Andrew Bucholtz

The ongoing battle between female Canadian ski jumpers and the International Olympic Commission (IOC) shows our society isn’t as far along in sporting equality as has often been claimed. Eleven months ago, a group of these aspiring athletes launched a human-rights lawsuit trying to force the Canadian government to lobby the IOC to add women’s ski jumping to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, or sponsor an equivalent competition at the same time. The IOC has so far refused, saying the sport involves too few athletes and hasn’t held enough official world championships.

Last Tuesday, the federal government announced the terms of a mediated settlement in the case, which involves the government lobbying the IOC on behalf of the athletes. Several crucial figures in Canadian sport, including federal Secretary of State for Sport Helena Guergis, David Emerson, international trade minister and the senior minister responsible for the 2010 Games, and Beckie Scott—North America’s first Olympic gold medallist in Nordic skiing and a Canadian IOC member—have already given the athletes their full backing against the mighty IOC bureaucracy. “I am sympathetic and supportive of the women ski jumpers and their efforts to gain entry in to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics,” Scott told the Globe and Mail’s James Christie. “I fully appreciate that the IOC has to uphold certain standards that must be met in order to qualify as Olympic events, but it still seems unjust to me in this day and age to hold a competition that is only for men at the Olympic Games.”

The British Columbia provincial government and the federal government have also added their clout to the cause: both say they will appeal to IOC President Jacques Rogge when he visits Vancouver next month. Others have offered more measured support, such as Canadian Olympic Committee President Michael Chambers.

One man stands out against the united Canadian voice though, for his quixotic crusade against equality, modern realities and a group of highly-skilled Canadian athletes: Dick Pound, Canada’s senior IOC member and the former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Pound, famed for his past tilts against drug testing schemes in hockey and golf, now has a group of female teenagers in his sights.

“Instead of wasting their money on human-rights cases, they’d be better off hiring some coaches and convincing people to build programs for women rather than trying to do something through the back door,” Pound told the Globe last Monday.

There are several problems with Pound’s arguments here. First off, this campaign isn’t through the back door: it’s similar to the public and political pressure (including a U.S. Senate resolution) used to get women’s marathon added to the Olympics back in 1984. Secondly, the athletes aren’t wasting their money: as a follow-up Globe story on Jan. 9 noted, the women’s lawyer works for free (probably motivated by the justice of their cause). Thirdly, there already are substantial women’s programs in place around the world: there are 135 female ski-jumpers registered with the sport’s governing body, which compares favorably to many women’s sports already in the Olympics, such as bobsled and skier cross (with 26 and 30 registered athletes respectively).

Women’s ski jumping is set to hold its first official world championships next year in Liberec, Czech Republic. The IOC argues that only holding one championship before the Olympics is inadequate, but it didn’t stop women’s marathon from being included in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Of course, that involved some heavy political maneuvering from a powerful host nation. It remains to be seen if Canada can carry the same clout with the IOC, but it would be a good start for the country’s most senior Olympic authority to abandon his dinosaur-like stance and use his influence for good, going after an organization stuck in a misogynistic past rather than the windmills, shadows and easy targets he seems to favour.

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