The International Olympic Committee would spurn a women's ski-jumping event at the 2010 Olympics, no matter what the courts decide, according to Canadian IOC delegate Dick Pound.
An elite group of international women ski jumpers is suing Vancouver Olympic organizers (VANOC) over the IOC's decision to exclude them from the Games, arguing that it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
But Mr. Pound said yesterday that a legal victory by the women would not change anything as far as the IOC is concerned. The Olympic governing body would still not recognize women's ski jumping as an Olympic event or hand out medals should a competition actually take place, he affirmed.
"The Canadian courts don't decide what Olympic events are going to take place. The women ski jumpers are not ready, on technical grounds, to be included [in the Olympics] and that's an IOC decision," said Mr. Pound, in a telephone interview from Copenhagen where he is attending an IOC congress.
The ski jumpers argue that their exclusion from the Games, while male ski jumpers have been part of the Olympics since 1924, is discrimination that violates their Charter rights.
An earlier court ruling agreed that the IOC decision to keep them from the Games was indeed discrimination, but concluded that the Switzerland-based institution was beyond the reach of the Charter. The appeal of the verdict is scheduled to be heard Nov. 12.
The women ski jumpers' lawyer, Ross Clark, lashed out at Mr. Pound's remarks.
"This is Canada. This is our country. We have a Constitution that is supposed to set standards under which we govern ourselves," said Mr. Clark. "We never agreed to throw our Constitution out the window [for the Olympics]"
He said the women are not asking the courts to order VANOC to stage an Olympic event for them. They are seeking a declaration that their exclusion is illegal under the Charter. It is then up to VANOC to decide how to comply with the law, Mr. Clark explained. One way, he suggested, is to cancel the three men's ski-jumping events so that both men and women are treated equally.
"If you are going to host men's ski jumping, then you have to host it for the women. Otherwise, you can't host ski-jumping at all," Mr. Clark contended.
"Because you can't do it in a non-discriminatory manner."
Mr. Pound called that "a total strategic error ... to say, 'I we're not in, someone has to be out.'' He added that VANOC has no power to do anything, no matter what the courts finally decide.
"VANOC has agreed to put on a program that is determined by the IOC. Do you think local organizers should be telling the IOC what they should be doing? It would be like VANOC saying to the IOC, 'We think ringette should be in.' ... The IOC is simply not a party to this action."
He added that a legal victory by the women ski jumpers could wreck any chance of Canada holding future big international sporting events, such as the Olympics.
"Can you imagine anyone putting one on, and having the courts in Canada telling you what events you have to hold, and if you don't have women, you're going to have to take off the men. Why would they go there?"
Ski jumpers involved in the court case said they were perturbed by what Mr. Pound had to say.
"As a Canadian, I'm startled. He is putting the IOC ahead of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," said 16-year Meaghan Reid, who has been ski jumping for five years.
"His attitude kind of shows what we're up against, and why we decided to launch our lawsuit in the first place."
Zoya Lynch, 18, who remains part of the lawsuit though she is currently on a break from ski jumping, said she feels embarrassed for Mr. Pound "as a Canadian. It's really insulting to us. ."
The women ski jumper's quest to compete at the Olympics has become a bit of a cause célèbre, garnering widespread public and political support, with several documentaries on their fight in the works.