Speaking of Women's Rights: Olympic Women: Jumping the Gender Gap...quite literally.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Olympic Women: Jumping the Gender Gap...quite literally.

As the Vancouver Sun put it, this year the Canadian women “wore the snowpants” in Canada’s Olympic Family, winning more than 2/3 of the country's medals. The case was the same in the past two winter Olympics actually. And though the male faction of the U.S. team beat out the women in number of medals earned, Germany – also placing in the top 3 of the medal count – boasted more female medal-winners as well. If women are out-performing the men on the whole, why does it still seem like such an uphill battle to garner support for women in sports?

Steven Hume of the Vancouver Sun points out that some of the female biathlon and cross-country athletes posed nude in magazine features in order to raise funds for their training. “If there's any lasting gold to be taken home from these Olympics, it will be for all of us to insist upon adequate funding for the development of our exemplary female athletes.” Funding for and acceptance of women’s sports seems to increase the more that women participate in them. Yet, more women participate in sports when there’s funding and acceptance of their choice to pursue athletic excellence. A bit “chicken or the egg,” eh?

With the cavalcade of Olympic skiing events – from Ski Cross to Biathalon, Freestyle to Combined – it may’ve been easy to overlook the omission of women’s ski jumping. The International Olympic Committee’s decision to deny female ski jumpers the chance to compete in the 2010 games actually resulted in a lawsuit filed by 15 competitive ski-jumpers from around the world.

The IOC maintains that women’s ski jumping is “not yet advanced enough for inclusion in the Olympics,” a questionable claim given the sheer number of elite female ski jumpers across the globe, and the fact that the longest jump recorded in history belongs to an American woman. The lawsuit was dismissed on the grounds that Canadian law has no jurisdiction over the IOC. Though they lost out in Vancouver, the movement has set its sights on 2014, spreading the world through an online petition.

Skiing isn’t the only arena where women were left in (or out of) the cold this Olympics. 21 more medals were available for men than women. And one relatively recent addition came under fire this year from critics who say the sport isn’t competitive enough around the world to warrant inclusion in the Olympics. Little did the Canadian and U.S. women’s hockey teams know that by obliterating their opponents they were putting the future of their sport in jeopardy.

Says sports columnist Jeff Passan “So wide is the chasm between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, the International Olympic Committee should issue an ultimatum to the sport’s powers that be: Figure out how to balance the sport’s competitiveness or risk losing standing as an Olympic competition after the 2018 Games.”

Eight years to even the score, huh? The thing is that we’re not just talking about a sports score here…we’re talking about gender discrimination and gender stereotyping that have been ingrained for hundreds – and in some case thousands – of years. In China, for instance, 200 out of a whopping 650 million women participate in the sport. That means that if you’re a Chinese female hockey player you have a roughly 1 in 5 chance of being on the Olympic team.

And let’s not forget the humble beginnings of men’s Olympic hockey. In 1920, the United States beat Switzerland 29-0. Canada outscored opponents in pool play 85-0. And though teams from around the world have improved, who played for the gold and silver medals again this time around? That’s right…the same old North American friends!

Perhaps the IOC needs to take another look and determine whether its policies are helping to achieve its mission: "To promote Olympism throughout the world and lead the Olympic movement." I don't know what the heck "Olympism" is, but waiting around for countries to wipe out gender discrimination doesn’t really sound like “leading” to me. C’mon IOC: as this beautiful video promoting women’s ski jumping suggests “Let’s not just bridge the gap in 2014…let’s jump over it!”