(WOMENSENEWS)–After a decade-long fight, women’s ski jumping will finally make its Olympic debut at this year’s Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, which began last week and run through Feb. 23.
Thirty women from 11 countries will compete tomorrow, Feb. 11, for the medal in the ski jumping event for the first time since the Winter Olympics began in 1924, reported the New York Post. Competitors include Sarah Hendrickson, Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome on the U.S. women’s team. Some say the event promises to be one of the Games’ highlights.
The battle to include women’s ski jumping in the Olympics began in 2004 when Deedee Corradini, president of Women’s Ski Jumping USA, learned about the sport’s exclusion from ski jumper Van. The two women led a campaign, which included a lawsuit, to change that.
The campaign wasn’t supported by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Federation and resisted by the International Ski Federation, whose president in 2005, Gian Franco Kasper, also an International Olympic Committee member, said he opposed women’s ski jumping because it “seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view,” The Washington Post reported. Specifically, there was concern it could damage a woman’s reproductive system.
The International Olympic Committee announced in April 2011 that Sochi would host a women’s ski jumping event. While it’s a big win, it isn’t a total victory, the New York Post article reported, since male ski jumpers will compete in three events on the so-called normal hill and large hill, while women will only compete in one event on the “less challenging” normal hill.
Same Old Scenario
This scenario is nothing new though, Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, told Mother Jones. “Every new sport has been a fight for years,” she said.
Weightlifting, boxing, cycling, wrestling and water polo, for example, were all men’s-only sports for much of Summer Olympics’ history, the article reported, while bobsled and ice hockey were off limits to women for much of the Winter Games’ history. You can take a closer look at women’s fight to join the Olympics, sport by sport, by clicking on this snapshot of an infographic from Mother Jones.
While more women are competing in the Olympics today than ever–the 2012 London Olympics were huge for female athletes, with 44.3 percent of Olympians being women–they’re “still not equal in any way,” Smeal was quoted as saying. In this CBS story, “Top 20 Sexiest Female Athletes at Sochi Winter Olympics 2014,” for example, female Olympians are clearly not being celebrated for their athleticism.
The Olympics are also shrouded in additional controversy this year, having been criticized for corruption and terror threats to the Games, as well as Russia’s mistreatment of gays and lesbians.
Many organizations and individuals have called for a boycott of the Games, including members of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot. Last week, two contested members of the band, Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina, reiterated demands for a boycott and called for a free Russia at a benefit concert for Amnesty International in Brooklyn, N.Y. The two women, who were released from prison in December, were jailed for almost two years for protesting Russian leader Vladimir Putin inside an Orthodox cathedral.
Anti-Gay Law Backlash
Others around the world are protesting Russia’s discriminatory stance on gays and lesbians, including a law that prohibits “homosexual propaganda,” one measure among several federal anti-LGBT laws proposed or adopted in 2013.
The backlash ranges from a cheeky commercial saying the Olympics have always been a little bit gay to Google giving its search page a makeover, featuring the part of the Olympic charter that bans “discrimination of any kind” and athletes superimposed over a rainbow, to an open letter signed by more than 200 authors from 30 countries. Also, last week, two days before the opening of the Games, people in 20 cities around the world demanded that Olympic sponsors at global corporations condemn the anti-gay law, Voice of America reported.
Human Rights Watch, among other international groups, has also urged corporate sponsors of the Games to speak out against abuses, and in a statement last week said that Russia’s adoption of the anti-gay propaganda law has coincided with the spread of homophobic violence. The organization asked the Russian authorities to address the widespread abuse against LGBT people and activists, and said the authorities’ failure to act, along with some officials’ homophobic comments, have exposed LGBT people to further harassment and violence and emboldened attackers.
“By turning a blind eye to hateful homophobic rhetoric and violence, Russian authorities are sending a dangerous message as the world is about to arrive on its doorstep for the Olympics that there is nothing wrong with attacks on gay people,” said Tanya Cooper, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch, in the statement.
The Obama administration is not sending any high-ranking officials to Sochi. Instead, the American delegation includes two openly gay athletes. Tennis legend and gay rights campaigner Billie Jean King was also scheduled to join the presidential delegation, but pulled out last week because her mother is ill.