Human rights ruling
Distance runner Hilary Stellingwerff competed for Canada in the 1,500 metres at the 2012 London Olympics. Two years later, at 34, she had a son and continued to receive her funding, as one of six “senior injury” cases listed by Athletics Canada. But in June 2015, after resuming training, she got injured and lost her funding.
“I felt that this was a human rights issue that my male counterparts weren’t going to be dealing with the same situation,” she said. “Any female would have to choose from injury or pregnancy – and, of course, you don’t choose to get injured. I thought this is discriminatory against women because it isn’t the same case for males.” Stellingwerf believes there need to be changes at Sport Canada to secure women’s rights. She took her case to arbitration.
In the 2016 final ruling, arbitrator Carol Roberts wrote: “The AAP [Sport Canada’s Athlete Assistance Program] policy of preventing female athletes who have been pregnant from subsequently obtaining a medical card is discriminatory.” Although Stellingwerf won her dispute, her carding did not resume immediately because Athletics Canada was not convinced she could compete at the Olympic level following her pregnancy. But Stellingwerff made the Olympic standard, and got her funding reinstated in time for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Eight months after giving birth, Stellingwerf ran a career personal best in a five-kilometre road event.
Following the ruling, Caroline Sharp, communications manager at Athletics Canada, said the organization stopped using the term “injury card,” replacing it with “health card,” which encompasses more than just physical injuries, and updated provision 8.14.5 of its policy: “Athletes may be nominated for Health Card status due to pregnancy more than once.”
The language matters, because it can obscure even the best-intended policies. Aside from pregnancy, any number of health carding cases may not involve injury: mental health, and personal matters among them. By the same token “retirement” is now called “transition” because it’s a better descriptor for young athletes whose competitive careers are ending.
Published at Sun, 10 May 2020 11:59:02 +0000