Sport Canoe slalom silver medallist Jessica Fox to press case for gender equality

Canoe Slalom / Dec 4, 2012

Her father Richard, who heads Australia’s elite canoe-kayak program, already has lost his position as vice-president of the International Canoe Federation, apparently because of his outspoken campaigning for more women’s events in the Olympic Games.

But the British Olympian is unrepentant and his daughter is just as passionate in her support for the campaign.

“Just in slalom canoeing there were four men for every woman competing at the London Olympics,” Fox, 18, said.

“There are three events for men (K1, C1 and C2) and one event for women (K1). In terms of Olympic values, that’s a long way from what it should be. In this day and age it’s almost unthinkable that we are not at gender equality.”

Fox emerged as a star of her sport in London by winning the silver medal in the women’s event _ single kayak _ but could have doubled her medal tally had the women’s C1 (single canoe) event also been included in the program, as it is for men.

Fox had been ranked No 1 in the world in the C1 event before she switched her focus entirely to the K1 for the Olympics.

Now her compatriot Ros Lawrence is ranked No 1 in the world in C1 and the Foxes are campaigning for both of them.

The ICF is supporting the inclusion of the women’s C1 in the Rio Olympic program but knows the International Olympic Committee is likely to insist that, for an extra women’s event to enter the program, a men’s event must be dropped. And that may be the sticking point.

The men’s C2 is the logical event to make way, according to Richard Fox, and he believes the case for gender equality is “compelling”. But he is not sure the ICF will be prepared to make that decision in the face of opposition from its male constituency.

“If the sport is brave enough to change and move with the times it could have a 50/50 balance of two men’s events and two women’s events and corresponding athlete numbers of 41 men and 41 women spread across men’s and women’s K1 and men’s and women’s C1. But there would be pain in the process,” he said.

“I think it’s inevitable that this will happen eventually, so why not accelerate the process.”

Currently there are no canoe events for women in either the slalom or sprint disciplines.

Fox warns that if the ICF refuses to take that step the pain could be even greater. It may find itself in jeopardy as an Olympic sport as the IOC pushes for all sports to achieve gender equity.

“The Games movement is headed this way and the writing is on the wall for canoeing, which has one of the worst records on gender balance in the Olympic program, along with boxing and wrestling,” Fox said.

At the International Olympic Committee session in Buenos Aires next September, the IOC will vote to drop one sport from the Games and elevate another as part of its continuing review. Fox is concerned the ICF could put itself in the danger zone if it does not act to improve equality.

ICF president Jose Perurena has said the sport expected to reach gender equity in sprint and slalom events on the Olympic program by 2020 or 2024, although that may come too late for this generation of women.

Fox’s opponents say his campaign is driven by personal interest (he has two daughters competing in canoe events and his wife Miriam, a French Olympic medallist, is their coach) but he said he had a broader interest in creating opportunity for women in the sport.

“We have done a lot of work to get women into elite canoeing but at the moment we are selling a dream that’s fairly hard to realise,” he said