Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: if you care about democracy and the rule of law, you need to care about women’s ski jumping. This juxtaposition, straight out of a Hunter S. Thompson acid trip, relates to a court ruling in Canada that is both frightening in its scope and outrageous in its implications. A coalition of women’s ski jumpers have sued the International Olympic Committee for the right to compete at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. They argued that by preventing their entry in the games, the Vancouver Olympic Committee, and by extension the IOC, were in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that prohibits discrimination based on gender. For women ski jumpers, it’s struggle for recognition that is years in the making. But it’s the ruling that should both shock and awe, whether or not you could care less about the wacky niche world of winter sports.
The judge ruled that yes, the IOC was in violation of the Canadian Charter, but that was an irrelevancy since the IOC–not Canadian law–actually had jurisdiction in this matter. The IOC’s rule that ski jumping remain, as it has since 1924, for men only, takes precedence over the laws of Canada. Olympic law, designed by a coven of aging aristocrats, holds the ultimate power. Forget for a moment that women are some of the best ski jumpers in the world. Forget that the person who holds the record on Vancouver’s jump site is actually American woman Lindsey Van. Forget that the International Ski Federation (FIS) voted 114-1 in 2006 to recommend inclusion of the women’s ski jump. Forget even the blatant sexism of FIS president Gian-Franco Kasper, who said in 2005 that ski jumping “seems not to be appropriate for the ladies from a medical point of view.” Forget that the Olympic charter reads that the IOC’s mission is “to encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women,” and “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”
Forget all of that and consider that a judge ruled that the International Olympic Committee effectively has legal jurisdiction over the Canadian Government. The logic of this decision continues a process where the people of Vancouver have been smashed by the stateless, mobile dictatorship of the IOC.
As Harsha Walia, member of No One Is Illegal and Olympic Resistance Network, said to me, “In the lead-up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, we have witnessed and been subjected to an increasingly fortified police state, including intimidation and harassment of activists by security and intelligence forces as part of an unparalleled $1 billion security and surveillance network. In contravention of basic rights, police have stated their plans to set up checkpoints, search people without cause and erect security exclusion zones. There is even a proposed bylaw to allow officials to enter homes to seize anti-Olympic signs, for which violators would be fined up to $10,000 a day. And these are just some of the many negative legacies of the five-ring circus of oppression.”
The dynamic Harsha describes has played out in other cases over recent years. In 2004, Greek officials actually overrode their own law by “allowing” thousands of armed-to-the-teeth paramilitary troops from the United States, Britain, and Israel to patrol the country in antiterrorist battalions. In other countries, treasured laws governing civil liberties or the right to protest have been trampled in the name of peace on the IOC’s terms. Only in China did the IOC find the symbiosis desired between order and corporate control.
As for the ski jumpers, Deedee Corradini, president of Women’s Ski Jumping USA, said in a statement that their fight will go on. “I’m still in a state of shock and somewhat numb because we were so optimistic,” Corradini said. “But we have to keep going to support these women. They earned it. They deserved it and it’s just wrong.”
It is wrong and it is in absolute violation of the Olympic charter, which has proven itself to be a fraudulent document, only as strong as those in sports willing to hold the IOC to their word. But constitutions should be an even higher authority. The athletes need to join with the activists to make sure that the 2010 games are worthy of the sentiments used to sell them to the public.