VANCOUVER - A group of women ski jumpers has sued the Vancouver organizing committee for the 2010 Winter Olympics, saying that being excluded from the Games is a violation of their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The lawsuit, filed in B.C. Supreme Court Wednesday, says the failure to include a women's ski jumping event in the Games is discriminatory and based on stereotypes of the types of activities suitable for women.
"The exclusion ... demeans the dignity of women who practice, have practised and wish to practise ski jumping at a high level by continuing a pattern of denial of opportunities available to their male colleagues," it reads.
The nine plaintiffs, from countries such as Norway, Austria, Germany and the U.S., say they want a women's ski jumping event included in the Games.
If that doesn't happen, they're calling for an injunction to block the Vancouver organizing committee, VANOC, from staging any men's ski jumping events.
The International Olympic Committee voted in 2006 not to allow women's ski jumping into the 2010 Games, saying the sport has not developed enough and that it didn't meet basic criteria for inclusion.
In order to be considered for inclusion in an Olympic Games, a sport must be practice in at least 35 countries and have held at least two world championships. The first women's ski jumping world championships will be held next year in Liberec, Czech Republic.
The lawsuit says multiple Olympic Winter events fail to meet these criteria.
It also argues the Vancouver organizing committee, VANOC, had previously told the International Olympic Committee it didn't want to include women's ski jumping because of budget constraints.
The lawsuit says VANOC's position determined or influenced the IOC's vote against women's ski jumping.
Ski jumping is the only event at the Winter Games that is closed to women.
Mike Mulligan, a Victoria lawyer, said the lawsuit is a media and political exercise that may be meant to score a "moral victory" for the athletes.
"I suspect there are reasons behind this that go beyond the narrow claim," he said. "Perhaps at the end of the day, a declaration that (the women's ski jumping) should have been included."
The reason the athletes are suing VANOC, and not the IOC, is because the Charter applies only to governmental organizations in Canada, he said.
But the lawsuit is "awkward," he said, because VANOC doesn't actually have the power to do what the athletes are requesting.
Earlier Wednesday, VANOC chief executive John Furlong reiterated that the International Olympic Committee decides which sports are included at an Olympics.
"Because we were lobbied heavily on this matter we took the position of informing the IOC many months ago that if they chose to put women's ski jumping on the program, we would of course execute that program," Furlong said.
"But we have no vote in this and we have no jurisdiction. They (the IOC) made their decision the way they normally make it and we support the decision that they've taken."
Cathy Priestner Allinger, VANOC's executive vice-president of sport and Games operations, said even if the suit were successful, accommodating another sport at this late date would be a logistical challenge.
"Our schedule gets finalized in August this year by the IOC, so at that it becomes that much more difficult for us to make adjustments," she said before the writ was issued Wednesday.
"We've got ticket sales, we've got television broadcast planning. All of that very much revolves around the schedule."
Mulligan said it's not certain if this suit could wind its way through the courts system by then, given the long process that's involved.
An interesting point about the lawsuit, he said, was that while the athletes emphasize that top-ranked women jumpers are competitive in a field of male counterparts, there's no bid for a co-ed event.
"One of the remedies they don't ask for here is permitting women to participating in the event, rather than trying to have it on the schedule, or having the men taken off," he said.