Female ski jumpers got the cold shoulder from International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge on Wednesday when he disregarded a request to meet with two of the athletes who are suing to participate in the Vancouver Olympics. World champion Lindsey Van of the United States and Canada team member Katie Willis wrote to Rogge last week requesting a meeting while he was in Denver attending the SportAccord convention of industry sport leaders and the accompanying IOC executive board meetings.
They want the IOC to reconsider its 2006 decision to bar female ski jumpers from next year's Winter Games. "The sport is definitely moving forward, but we need the Olympics to give us that final push so that we can be closer to the guys in equality," said Van, who won the first women's ski jumping World Cup in the Czech Republic last month.
Willis said the success of that World Cup event showed the women were ready for the Winter Games.
Willis and Van were among 15 ski jumpers who are suing because only male jumpers are allowed to compete in the Vancouver Olympics. The IOC says women's ski jumping doesn't have enough international competitions to merit inclusion.
If the IOC doesn't reconsider its stance, the lawsuit filed last May against Vancouver organizers citing gender discrimination will be heard on April 20 before a single judge in the British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver. Both sides will have two days to make their case. The judge's ruling is subject to appeal. "At risk of a very bad pun, it's the court of last resort," said Deborah Folka, spokeswomen for the plaintiffs. "These women have paid their dues. We're not being circuitous. We're not trying to jump in queue. We're not trying to get in where we don't belong. We're not trying to be at a level where we can't compete." The plaintiffs represent 160 elite female ski jumpers from 18 countries who compete at the sport's highest level. They are asking for a single event on the normal hill in 2010.
Ski jumping, one of the original eight events held at the first Winter Games in Chamonix, France, in 1924, was the only event in the Winter Games that doesn't allow female competitors. Five Canadian ski jumpers were added to the lawsuit recently, joining three Americans and two retired Canadian jumpers, among others.
Willis said she hadn't joined the lawsuit sooner because she hoped the Canadian government would follow through on a promise to intervene with the IOC after the female jumpers agreed to drop a human rights complaint.
The roadblocks have taken a toll, Willis said. "It's very disappointing and it's hard to take because we've put our lives into this and we're so dedicated and we really want to be at the Olympics," Willis said. "It's just sad because I am from Canada and I was hoping that our government would back us but since that didn't happen, that's why all of the Canadians decided to join" the lawsuit.
Van wasn't surprised that Rogge never responded to her request for an audience with the IOC chairman.
"Totally ignored, as expected," she said as she waited at Denver International Airport to fly home to Park City, Utah on Wednesday.
Van said she was cautiously optimistic she'll be jumping in Vancouver next winter. But, she said if their quest fails, it will be devastating to her sport because funding would dry up from the United States Olympic Committee and US Ski team. "If the decision goes against us, it's going to be really hard for our sport. There's going to be a lot of funding cut at the top level for the women because the economy's so bad that they're just going to fund sports that are going to get Olympic medals," Van said.
"If it's not in the Olympics, the top level of women ski jumpers will quit and the sport is going to go backward."