UBC vice-president, (students) Louise Cowin (left) and UBC Athletics and Recreation managing director Ashley Howard update the media at a Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014 news conference. After months of angst and controversy, the University of B.C.'s sports targeting review of varsity athletics has ended with largely the same roster of teams as when it began. Only five of 29 varsity teams, four of them ski teams that seemed doomed from the start of the contentious review, have been eliminated. Women's softball has been downgraded to club status.
Photograph by: Ward Perrin, PNG
VANCOUVER - The UBC women’s softball team is heading to six-team playoffs in Lawrenceville, Ga., next month as a sixth-seeded underdog.
The bigger battle, however, could come in a courtroom as the team seeks to retain full varsity status beyond 2015.
The 18-women on the squad, which UBC is dropping to competitive club status, filed a civil claim in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday alleging gender discrimination, breach of contract, misrepresentation and negligence.
The defendants include UBC, its board of governors, the athletics and recreation department, university president Stephen Toope, vice-president of students Louise Cowin and both the provincial and federal governments.
The defendants have 21 days to file a response.
“I don’t think we’d use the term pressure tactic,” said lawyer Kerri Farion, a former UBC hockey player of the potential of the issue being resolved before it goes to court. “We would term it women standing up for what they deserve.
“It’s been a long-time coming considering the Charter of Rights has been around for 30 years. UBC is like other universities across Canada where there’s been large disparities in funding of male and female athletes. But nobody has pushed them. At what point does this stop and people stand up.”
Softball, men’s and women’s alpine skiing and men’s and women’s Nordic skiing were downgraded to club status after a contentious Sport Review Project that drew widespread criticism from alumni. Several of the 24 sports to retain varsity status only did so after securing new pledges of support from donors.
UBC said the softball program, in just its fifth season and first with a full-time head coach, was downgraded because it does not have an on-campus home field, isn’t part of a NAIA conference, generates little fan support and has “limited community engagement.”
The civil claim challenges all those points, noting that UBC didn’t ensure that a field built by a property developer in 2012 met the necessary standards for collegiate play.
“UBC and the board have not made any move to enforce terms of that contract,” said Farion.
The claim also notes that the softball team has an opportunity to join the Cascade Collegiate Conference in the Pacific Northwest and that its players have been very involved in running clinics for kids, in supporting community events for charities like Breast Cancer Awareness Month and volunteering for such events as the Millenium Breakfast fund-raiser.
As for the limited fan support, Farion said that was held against several teams in the review.
“Well, isn’t that a job for the athletics and recreation department. But they’ve had just one person in promotions and marketing for 29 teams. If it was such a big deal, why isn’t there more staff.”
Farion said softball got “the short end of the stick. They were the youngest team and they didn’t have any older alumni at the table banging down the door.”
Cassandra Dypchey, the team’s captain and a graduating senior, said the women felt like they had nothing to lose in launching the civil claim.
“(Club team status) is only going to demolish our team. In order to play in the AII (the Association of Independent Institutions in Georgia, which leads to NAIA Nationals) you have to be affiliated with a university league.
“Even if the university is not pleased with us (for launching the civil claim), we have nowhere else to go.”
Dypchey also pointed out the gender inequity in the 24 sports that retained varsity or varsity hybrid status.
“The final structure is 13 male sports and 11 female sports and that’s not even counting the 99 players on the football team and the fact one women’s team, golf, is just a team of six. There’s no equality going on there.”
She and Farion also noted that since the 2001-02 academic year, UBC has consistently had a female to male enrollment ratio averaging about 55 per cent to 45 per cent.
Farion said the federal and provincial governments need to step in and ensure that female athletes are “getting their due in terms of stewardship of resources.”
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun