International Olympic Committee Position on Participation of Women

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, my question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Next year, all eyes will be on Canada and beautiful British Columbia when the Olympic flame burns bright in Vancouver. However, we are now seeing who is being burned by the International Olympic Committee.

Women ski jumpers have had to resort to the courts for the right to compete in the 2010 Games. Ski jumping is the only sport not open to both genders in the Winter Olympic Games. What is this government doing to show its commitment to women’s equality? What is the government doing to ensure that these women athletes have the chance to soar?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): I thank the honourable senator for his question. My colleagues in government share in the frustration that Senator Munson has just expressed.

The Minister of State for the Status of Women, the Honourable Helena Guergis, has spoken out about this matter frequently. As we know, the IOC has determined that they wish to proceed in this way. The committee’s decision does not sit well with many Canadians, most particularly Canadian women. A group of former and current ski jumpers has brought the matter to the courts. Beyond that, there is not much I can say. We await the decision of the courts.

As honourable senators know, especially Senator Munson with his involvement in Olympic movements, the IOC is a world body unto itself, and no government has direct control over the actions of the committee.

In any event, I share the honourable senator’s concern and reassure him that the Minister of State for the Status of Women has raised this matter on many occasions.

Senator Munson: I thank the leader for her answer. For the record, in the 1980s women were excluded from long-distance running at the Olympics. I know some of the people in the IOC. At the London Olympic Games in 2012, women boxers will be excluded as well, unless some country stands up to the IOC.

I feel that Canada owes it to our female athletes to take action. I wonder what the Famous Five outside these walls would have thought if we allow this injustice to endure.

Senator LeBreton: I agree, honourable senators. If one looks at past Olympics, even some sports were deemed not to be sports. Ski jumping is a sport, and I think that it should not be reserved for one gender over the other.