Finally, a partial victory for qualifying female athletes fighting for the right to compete in Olympic Ski Jump events. Today the International Olympic Committee removed the Medical Gender Reassignment requirement imposed on female skiers to compete at the Olympic level in small hill ski-jumping events. It’s been a long protracted battle against entrenched sexist ideas about female athleticism in the male sports establishment. In 2005, Gian Franco Kasper the president of the International Ski Federation explained the prohibition against female ski-jumpers: “Don’t forget, it’s like jumping down from, let’s say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view”.
In 2008 the Olympic Committee claimed gender exclusion of female ski-jumpers was not discriminatory. President Jacques Rogge stated that the decision “was made strictly on a technical basis, and absolutely not on gender grounds.” “This is not discrimination.This is just the respect of essential technical rules that say to become an Olympic sport, a sport must be widely practised around the world . . . and have a big appeal. This is not the case for women’s ski jumping so there is no discrimination what so ever.”
But the numbers contradicted his claims. According to Mother Jones: “When the IOC voted in 2006 not to add women’s ski jumping, 83 competitors from 14 nations jumped at the top level, less universality than required to add a new event. But in the same year, women’s skier cross claimed just 30 skiers from 11 nations. The committee added it. (There are also too few male ski jumpers to qualify, but as one of the original 16 Winter Olympic events, their event isn’t subjected to the same rules.)”
A group of athletes sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee for gender discrimination over the issue in Canadian court in anticipation of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled that exclusion WAS illegal gender discrimination, but that the Canadian Court had no authority over the activities of the International Olympic Committee on Canadian soil. One of the plaintiffs was Lindsey Van, the athlete who held the world record over all other male and female competitors for long jump on the 95m hill at Vancouver- the very hill she was not permitted to compete on. According to the Olympic Committee the only way she could qualify for competition was to undergo surgical sterilization followed by a two year course of masculinizing testosterone injections and governmental documentation proving that she had renounced her gender. She declined.
Her world record held for two years until the 2010 Olympics (which she was forbidden to compete in). Who knows what would have happened if she had been allowed to compete that day. We’ll never know.
Unfortunately many of the early female groundbreakers in ski-jumping have passed the apex of their careers in the time these policies have been in effect. But thanks to them with today’s ruling females can compete in one ski-jump event without undergoing gender reassignment. Females who want to compete in large hill, team event and Nordic combined are still subject to gender reassignment requirements. But at least the door has been cracked open for female competition in the last male-only events in the Olympic Games.
(The sex-change requirement for female athletes who sought to compete in Olympic boxing events was lifted last year and now all summer Olympic games are open to qualifying females.)