Women’s Olympic Ski Jumping since Sagen v. VANCOC


Women’s Olympic Ski Jumping since Sagen v. VANCOC

The first gold medal for women’s Olympic ski jumping was awarded only seven years ago on February 11, 2014 at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi Russia. The winner, Carina Vogt of Germany, had the opportunity to win that title in part as a result of the efforts of a number of highly ranked and tenacious women ski jumpers who came before her.

In the leadup to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, 15 plaintiffs, all high-ranking women ski jumpers from Canada, Norway, Germany, Slovenia, and the United States, brought an application against the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, (“VANOC”) asserting that female ski jumpers were being excluded from competing at the 2010 Games because of their sex. They sought a declaration that if VANOC planned and staged ski jumping events for men, then a failure to plan and stage a ski jumping event for women violated their equality rights, as guaranteed in section 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and not saved under section 1.

In Sagen v. Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, 2009 BCSC 942, Madam Justice Fenlon concluded that while the exclusion of women’s ski jumping from the 2010 Games was discriminatory, VANOC was not in breach of the Charter. While VANOC was charged with staging events from a programme set by the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”), it had no power to either order the inclusion of women’s ski jumping or order the removal of the men’s ski jumping from the Olympic programme for the 2010 Games. As Justice Fenlon explained: “In other words, VANOC is not under a duty to distribute equally what it has no power to provide.” As owner and governor of the Olympics, only the IOC could alleviate the discrimination against the plaintiffs by including an Olympic ski jumping event for women. The plaintiffs’ application was dismissed and on November 13, 2009, the BC Court of Appeal dismissed the plaintiffs’ appeal.

The result was undoubtedly a difficult one for the plaintiffs, perhaps especially so for Lindsey Van who, just prior to the decision, had competed on the Whistler 90-metre ski jump (the length of the Normal Hill) and held the record for both men and women. The decision meant that this was a record that she was unable to defend in the 2010 Games.

While the application was ultimately unsuccessful, the plaintiffs’ efforts garnered increased attention to the sport as well as the athletes’ efforts to be included in the competition. Change came soon after. On April 6, 2011, (87 years after the start of men’s Olympic ski jumping) the IOC accepted women’s ski jumping into the official Olympic program for the 2014 Winter Olympics. While the women’s ski jumping events do not yet include the Large Hill or Team events (both of which are included in the men’s Olympic ski jumping events), the Women’s Normal Hill has been part of the Winter Olympic programme since 2014.

Since the inclusion of women’s ski jumping in the Winter Olympics, the conversation has turned to another Olympic event open to men, but not women: Nordic combined. Nordic combined is an event that incorporates both ski jumping and cross-country skiing and has been part of the Winter Olympics since 1924. In 2016, the International Ski Federation supported the inclusion of the women’s Nordic combined event in the programme of the Olympic Winter Games in 2022 and plans were underway to do so. However, the IOC ultimately decided to leave it off the schedule for the 2022 Games. Like the women ski jumpers before them, this group of athletes will have to wait for a chance to compete in the Olympic Winter Games.