19 February 2010

Why Can't Women Ski Jump in the Olympics?

As part of my ongoing indignation about how female athletes are treated in the Olympics, I researched this question, and found a helpful Time article by Claire Suddath outlining the efforts made to bring women's ski jump to Vancouver in 2010:

The IOC announced its original decision to exclude women jumpers from the Vancouver Olympics back in 2006. At the time, a women's world championship didn't exist yet and females had only been participating in the FIS Continental Cup — a notch below a world championship — for two years. The sport didn't have very many high-profile, FIS-sanctioned competitions, but that too may have been due to gender bias. In 2005, Gian Franco Kasper, FIS president and a member of the IOC [International Olympic Committee], said that he didn't think women should ski jump because the sport "seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view."
Suddath goes on to discuss the 2009 lawsuit filed in Vancouver by ten female ski jumpers against the IOC. (As it turned out, the British Columbia Supreme Court determined that it didn't have jurisdiction over international organizations, even though the IOC's actions were a clear violation of Canada's civil rights laws.)
So will the IOC approve women's ski jump for 2014? "We'll have to wait and see," IOC member Dick Pound said in an interview [...]. "If in the meantime you're making all kinds of allegations about the IOC and how it's discriminating on the basis of gender," he warned, "the IOC may say, 'Oh yeah, I remember them. They're the ones that embarrassed us and caused us a lot of trouble of trouble in Vancouver, maybe they should wait another four years or eight years.'"
It's too bad that no country's civil rights protections can touch the IOC, because I'm pretty sure this statement is an illegal threat of retaliation for an attempt to correct discriminatory practices.

(I was reading along with this article, nodding violently, right up until the final paragraph. Ironically, Suddath ends the article by noting that for now, "the girls remain on the sidelines." Really? After detailing the way the IOC has been making decisions about what events are or aren't safe for female athletes for almost 100 years now, doesn't it seem at all inappropriate to refer to these athletes as 'girls'?)

Incidentally, over at Feministing they're having a discussion about how come, after the men's luge starting point was lowered to the women's starting point following the death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during training, the women were forced to start from the 'junior' start point. I haven't found a definitive answer as to why the women are supposed to start at a lower point than the men in the first place; the commenters at the link above seem to think it's about the lower average body weight of the female competitors. The women lugers, particularly the German competitors, were mightily pissed off about the change. I'm tempted to say they're probably feeling a bit better after taking the gold and bronze medals, but probably they're still mad; I would be.

Update: Insightful Sociological Images post on the role of weight (and gender) in Olympic ski jumping:
Sociologists recognize sport as a terrain on which social claims about gender are demonstrated.  Not letting women play is one way that the mythology of men’s physical dominance has been maintained.