Ideablawg’s Weekly Connections: The Olympics Edition

Of course, this week is all about the Olympics and when sport and law sometimes intersect.

1.   The Dispute: How does the IOC (International Olympic Committee) decide which sports should be included in the games? Although the Olympics have come a long way since the Ancient Greeks competed in a handful of events, there are a number of sports not included in the games and a few, which have been dropped over the years. Baseball and softball were not on the roster for the London Olympics but considering Tokyo will be hosting in 2020, this may change. Wrestling was off and then on again.  The Olympic rules require all sports to be reviewed after every Olympics with sports to be added or dropped by a two-thirds majority vote. There are, of course, those sports, which have been added to the Olympic lineup, such as golf, rugby (reappearing) and kitesurfing (new) in the 2016 Olympics.   At Sochi there were new events such as team figure skating and the snowboard and ski slopestyle.  Women’s ski jump was a new event this year but not without some controversy. The quest for gender equality in the ski jump event evolved over time, culminating in a legal challenge by high-ranking women ski jumpers before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics. The British Columbia Court of Appeal, in dismissing the women’s case, found that the Charter could not apply to the selection of the 2010 events as and that even if the Charter did apply there was no breach of equality rights under s.15(1). Although, the question of whether VANOC or the Vancouver Olympic Committee was a government entity was easily answered in the negative, however the more difficult question was whether in organizing and staging the event VANOC was carrying out governmental activities. Even though there was governmental support for the Olympics, the Court found that this fact was not decisive on the issue of selection of Olympic events. In deed, neither VANOC nor the governmental agencies supporting the host City were involved in the selection of events. Thus, it could not be said that VANOC was the decision-maker and therefore the Charter could not apply.   Even so, the Court considered the reach of the equality s.15. In finding there was no breach the Court stated, “section 15(1) sets out constitutional guarantees of equality that are broad in scope, but it does not constitute a general guarantee of equality.  Rather, the section guarantees equality only in the way that the law affects individuals.  Where the law is not implicated in discrimination or inequality, is not engaged.” As the law or statutory authority was not engaged by the right or lack thereof to compete in the Olympics, s. 15 was not available and was not breached. A leave application to the Supreme Court of Canada was dismissed with costs. In the end, women’s ski jumping was approved for inclusion in Sochi. Unfortunately, none of the women who brought the court case won a medal in the sport, but what they did, in the end, win a victory for the sport.

2.   The Crime: Remember when Olympic scandals read like soap operas? If your memory needs refreshing, take a backward glance at the Tonya Harding – Nancy Kerrigan incident, when Kerrigan was attacked by a hammer to her knees, before the 1994 Olympics at the Women’s Championship and could not compete. That year Harding won and then lost as it was revealed that she was involved in the conspiracy to assault Kerrigan. But don’t worry, Nancy Kerrigan went on to perform in the Ice Capades while Tonya is now a professional boxer. Irony on ice?

3.   The Sabotage: What is it about skates? The Kerrigan/Harding incident did not stop some members of the American short track team from sabotaging Canadian Olympic gold medalist Oliver Jean’s skates in 2011. Despite this admission, the skater who did the deed accuses the coach for pressuring him to do it. The ISU or International Skating Union’s disciplinary commission considered the case last year and laid the blame for the incident squarely on the coach. This year at Sochi the Canadians were careful to check their skates before competing.

4.   The Dissent: Controversy swirled at the Olympics over the lack of gay rights in the host country and the lack of desire to meet with the Vancouver envoy supporting gay rights. But dissent escalated even further when Pussy Riot, the female punk rock activists, who were jailed last year after performing a “blasphemous” song in the Moscow Cathedral, were arrested but released in Sochi and then whipped by Cossacks – yes, there are still Cossacks. Read about their angry music video on the debacle entitled "Putin Will Teach You To Love Your Country" here