Gender Barrier Persists At Vancouver Olympics Ten female ski jumpers from six countries are suing to get into the 2010 games. They argue that the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games is violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by staging ski jumping competition that excludes women.

Gender Barrier Persists At Vancouver Olympics

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From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. The Vancouver Winter Olympics are a little more than a year away. Organizers say the schedule is set, but they may be forced to make one change - 10 women are suing because they're barred from competing in the games. Their event is the last Winter Olympic event closed to women - ski jumping. NPR's Howard Berkes has their story.

HOWARD BERKES: American Lindsey Van jumps like a girl.

(Soundbite of announcer)

Unidentified Man: Next jumper, Lindsey Van on the bar right now.

BERKES: Flying off the ski jump ramp, leaning forward over skis forming the letter V.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

BERKES: It's the longest jump of the day, the longest jump ever for women and men at the K90 Hill in Whistler, British Columbia. It was captured by Seapearl Productions for a documentary, and it's posted at Look at it closely, because it's a scene that won't be repeated at the 2010 Olympics - even though it's the record jump on the same hill Olympic jumpers will use. Lindsey Van is the best on that hill, but she won't be in the Olympics because she's a woman.

Ms. LINDSEY VAN (Ski Jumper, United States): It's just pretty painful to watch, you know, people I grew up training with be able to have the opportunity and me sit there knowing that I don't even have that opportunity because I'm not a male. And girls coming up in the future of the sport - it's depressing to tell young girls that you don't have the same opportunities just because they're girls.

BERKES: Van is 24 now. She's been jumping since she was seven. 2010 is her last chance at the Olympics, so she and nine other jumpers from six countries are suing to get into the games. Their lawsuit against the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee, or VANOC, basically says this -

Ms. DEEDEE CORRADINI (President, Women's Ski Jumping, USA; Former Mayor, Salt Lake City): If the men are going to jump, the women have to jump. And if the women aren't going to jump, then the men can't, either.

BECKER: DeeDee Corradini was mayor of Salt Lake City when it bid for the Olympics and has taken up the ski jumpers' cause.

Ms. CORRADINO: VANOC is a quasi-governmental entity. If you look at the composition of their board, if you look at who's funding all of the venues in the Olympic Games, it's the federal and the provincial and local governments. And therefore, under Canadian law, it is subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which prohibits discrimination.

BERKES: VANOC, the Olympic Organizing Committee, declined interview requests for this story, but its officials have blamed the International Olympic Committee, the IOC, which voted two years ago to keep women out of the Vancouver ski jumping competition. John Furlong is VANOC's CEO, and he spoke with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in May.

(Soundbite of statement by Mr. John Furlong)

Mr. JOHN FURLONG (CEO, Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee): We have, obviously, put the IOC in a position that they could - if they'd made a decision to put this on the program, we would have attempted to accommodate it. But, you know, it's a - the frustration is that it's not our area of jurisdiction at all.

BERKES: That is not a credible argument to Margot Young, a professor of law at the University of British Columbia.

Professor MARGOT YOUNG (Law, University of British Columbia): The games have to be run according to Canadian Law when they're on Canadian territory. So, I don't think VANOC can say, well, the International Olympic Committee made us treat women unequally. I think the IOC and what it believes is essentially irrelevant if the event's being held in Canada.

BERKES: International Olympic Committee officials did not respond to interview requests for this story. But IOC President Jacques Rogge spoke to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in February.

(Soundbite of statement by Mr. Jacques Rogge)

Mr. JACQUES ROGGE (President, International Olympic Committee): To become an Olympic sport, a sport must be widely practiced around the world, universal, and have a big appeal. This is not the case for women's ski jumping. So there is no discrimination whatsoever. They did not pass the technical mark. That will change in the future. We have no doubt about that. But today, they're not ready for it.

BERKES: Rogge and other IOC members are grossly misinformed, says women's ski jumping advocate DeeDee Corradini. She claims more than 80 elite women jumpers in 14 countries, more than other sports when they got into the games.

Ms. CORRADINI: If you look at the facts of ski jumping versus other sports that we should be compared to, which are luge, skeleton, bobsleigh and ski cross, in particular, we have more women and more nations competing at the elite level than any of those sports did when they were admitted.

BERKES: The IOC's rejection angers Anita DeFrantz, one of the few women on the International Olympic Committee. She's a former Olympian herself and African-American who has tried to open more Olympic sports to women. And she doesn't understand why her fellow IOC members won't do that for ski jumping.

Ms. ANITA DEFRANTZ (Member, International Olympic Committee; Chairwoman, Women and Sports Commission): Again, the words I heard were, well, you know, they're not good enough. I've heard that before. I understand discrimination very well. And this is a nearly textbook case of discrimination. It makes me feel very embarrassed that our organization, which is built on mutual respect and fair play, is doing this to a group of women. It's just wrong.

(Soundbite of shouting)

BERKES: At the top of the K90 Olympic ski jump outside Park City, Utah, Lindsey Van signals she's ready. She sits on a metallic bar, her relatively tiny, five-foot-three frame shrouded in a gray jumpsuit and black helmet. The lawsuit she and other ski jumpers filed will be heard by the British Columbia Supreme Court in April. Appeals could delay a final decision for months.

(Soundbite of skis)

BERKES: Van shoots off the end of the ramp, flying down to the finish, skis splayed in the classic V formation. It's up to Canadian courts now whether she'll fly into history in 13 months as one of the first women to break the final gender barrier in the Winter Olympics. Howard Berkes, NPR News.

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