Tuesday, April 21, 2009

GAL and... women's ski-jumping

As if to prove that there is almost no conceivable field of human activity that is not of at least potential interest to us here at the GAL blog, an interesting situation is developing in Canada with regard to its hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. In a nutshell, a group of female ski-jumpers has brought a claim before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, claiming that the fact that men can compete in this event at the Olympics while women can't is discriminatory, and in particular in violation of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) argues that the women's sport is not developed enough tobe included in the Olympics. The Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee argues that the decision was made by the IOC, which is immune from jurisdiction before Canadian courts. According to the BBC, the key issue will be showing that the Canadian government has effective control over the Organizing Committee, which will thus render the Canadian Charter applicable. The Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Argument can be found here. Certainly, much time is spent arguing that VANOC is controlled and financed by the Canadian Government. Just as much time, however, is spent on the discrimination claim itself, and the fact that the women train and sacrifice just as much as the men, and thus deserve equal recognition. And it does not shy away from emotive language: "At its core, VANOC's failure to plan, organize, finance and stage even one ski jumping event for women is an affront to the human dignity of the Plaintiffs" (para. 181).

Loads of interesting issues here: the discrimination claim; the immunity claim; the role of domestic courts in effectively applying domestic law to decisions of an international organisation; the public-private dimension ever-present in controversies involving the IOC; and the liability of domestic members of global organisations for activities and decisions of the latter. What is the legal nature of the Vancouver Organizing Committee? Is it a Canadian Government Agency? An autonomous NGO? An IOC "field mission"? We'll be keeping a close eye on this one...

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