When presented a potential major publicity opportunity on a silver platter, most institutions would at least give the idea some thoughtful consideration. Superstar Lindsey Vonn’s request to race in the men’s World Cup downhill at Lake Louise provided the International Ski Federation (FIS) with a true possibility to create excitement for the sport of alpine skiing.
With Vonn’s proposal, timing for the FIS was an issue. Vonn, however, had indicated she just wanted to give a men’s race a try and made everyone aware such an attempt need not happen immediately, perhaps not this season or even next. Typically the FIS council, instead of taking the thought under advisement, the wizened dullards who guide the sport decided to disallow the request and permanently block women as well as men from competing in each other’s events.
Why was this not a surprise?
Having continued to show itself as a torpid, reactive organization, the FIS then insured it would disgrace itself further by allowing ski sport’s biggest superstar the opportunity to fore run a men’s downhill. How condescending can the FIS be? Normally fore running spots are reserved for higher-level FIS racers or young, less experienced Europa Cup athletes, not a megastar.
Some perspective: a decade ago the then dominant woman professional golfer, Annika Sorenstam, requested and was granted permission to play in a men’s PGA tournament. Suddenly a routine tournament became a huge event and while Sorenstam was not a factor in the contest, the event received far more publicity than it had ever gotten before or since her classic attempt.
Had the FIS been the PGA, their answer to Sorenstam would have been no, you can’t play, but you can caddy for one of the guys. Not unpredictably, the International Ski Federation, one of the last of the good old boy clubs left in sport, remains disdainful of women.
This season, alpine skiing is undergoing the largest change since the introduction of breakaway gates because of the FIS’s wrongheaded decision to alter ski lengths and radii, ostensibly in the name of safety. The new ski rules will transform the nature of alpine completion, particularly in giant slalom, a move which will affect all licensed competitive skiers, male and female, to the U-18 level worldwide.
For a decision of this magnitude, not one, yes, not one woman- a current or past female athlete or simply any member of the female sex, was asked for advice, opinion, or to participate in the process or on snow testing prior to the FIS dictating a major sport altering modification. The FIS has no answer when asked why they excluded women. The truth is the organization never gave women a thought despite the magnitude of the change.
There is an old adage, which says, “When you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” The FIS certainly doesn’t know what road it is on, but at best, it looks to be one built in the 19th century! The FIS council might start thinking about looking for a 20th century road. After all we are already past the first decade of the 21st century where chauvinism is intolerable.
G. B. Jr.