Jessica Jerome is the U.S. champion in ski jumping, but unlike her fellow American athletes Ryan Malone (hockey), Sasha Cohen (figure skating) and Apolo Anton Ohno (speedskating), she is not training for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. The International Olympic Committee does not allow female ski jumpers to compete in the Games. Men, however, have been competing in ski jumping since the first Winter Olympics in 1924.
Instead, Jerome gets up early to teach ski lessons to children, then works the 5 PM-2 AM shift at the Sundance Film Festival to earn money. In between, she tries to squeeze in as much time as possible to practice her ski jumping skills and attempts to brush off the sexism displayed by the International Olympic Committee in refusing to allow women’s ski jumping during the Games.
“It’s almost comical,” Jerome said. “When I hear what some of these people say, my first question is, ‘Do you have a daughter?’ And my second question is, ‘Do you have a soul?’”
Women ski jumpers tried to change things, first petitioning the IOC for inclusion. When that failed they sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the right to participate. The case was heard last year and in a decision handed down last summer, the court agreed that the women were being discriminated against but ruled that VANOC was powerless to go against the IOC’s wishes. The decision was upheld in appeals court and last month the Canadian Supreme Court refused to hear the case, extinguishing the ski jumpers’ last flicker of Olympic hope.
During their battle they heard comments that seemed to come from another era, such as the one from Gian-Franco Kasper, the head of the International Ski Federation. A few years ago, he said, “Ski jumping is just too dangerous for women … [It] seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.”
They’ve heard IOC president Jacques Rogge belittle their efforts. They’ve watched other sports cut in front of them in the battle for inclusion.
Kasper’s arguments hark back to the days when women were barred from universities and male-dominated professions for fear that they were too fragile to handle academics or demanding jobs. Today, though, most people recognize that women themselves should be the judges of what they can or can’t handle.
The article notes that while IOC president Rogge has made public comments in support of gender equity, he also made the decision to bump softball from the sports played during the Summer Games. He defended his position on women’s ski jumping by saying that there weren’t enough high-caliber athletes to compete, yet allowed women’s ski cross to be added to the mix of sports in 2010 despite the ski jumpers contending that there were fewer ski cross athletes worldwide than ski jumpers.
And a major boost for women’s ski jumping would come from it being recognized as an Olympic sport. Knowing that they could someday represent their country and compete for a gold medal would encourage young women to take up the sport and train to become the best athletes in the world.
In the end, representation and equality matter. The IOC’s refusal to allow women to compete in a sport at the highest international level is overtly sending the message that female athletes are not as good as male athletes. They are basically telling girls not to aspire to the same dreams that boys have, that it’s silly for them to work hard and become skilled athletes because women’s sports just aren’t equal to men’s sports. And from there, it’s not that big of a jump to extrapolate that women aren’t as good, as valuable, or as interesting as men. Is that really the message the IOC wants to send to girls around the world?