By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., SDL (He/Him)

In an announcement this last Tuesday, Skate Canada shared that their definition of “team” is updated to reflect gender diversity in which a “team” is defined as “consisting of two skaters.” This is an update from the previous policy which defined a team as “one man and one woman” but was found to be inconsistent with Skate Canada’s “Skating for Everyone” initiative and commitment to non-discrimination in figure skating and ice dancing.

The move was developed by Skate Canada’s Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility Operating Committee who introduced it in formalized it in July 2022 and presented it to Skate Canada’s board of directors in September 2022 who then voted and passed the motion unanimously in December 2022.

“By updating the definition of team, many individuals in the figure skating community in Canada will have new opportunities to embrace the sport. This change is about removing barriers to participation in skating, and we believe it will have a significant impact in ensuring all gender identities are recognized and accepted equally and without prejudice,” said Karen Butcher, President, Skate Canada. “This change has been collectively endorsed by Skate Canada and will allow for new and exciting partnerships in the pair and ice dance disciplines to compete at the national level. Skate Canada is privileged to continue the advancement of skating in Canada by making rule and policy change that allows everyone to experience the joy of skating.”

While the policy change only applies for domestic figure skating and ice dancing events, this new policy change represents a major first step forward in building diversity and inclusion of gender identities in figure skating and ice dancing. Previous attempts to allow same sex pairs at a  figure skating competition have primarily focused on LGBTQ+ sports events, most notably the Gay Games which first featured the event in 1994.

In 1998 at the Gay Games in Amsterdam, the organizing committee for the figure skating competition attempted to get the event sanctioned by the Dutch National Governing Body which refused to sanction the full competition in protest of the same sex pairs. Furthermore, if any registered figure skater participated in the competition, they would receive a lifetime ban from the International Skating Union (ISU). While the event did take place, it was presented as an exhibition and the competitors were not eligible for medals or awards.

As a result, the International Gay Figure Skating Union (IGFSU) stepped up following the 1998 Gay Games and partnered with the Ice-Skating Institute (ISI) which allowed for same sex pairs, to sanction the Gay Games and other IGFSU tournaments. However, this created conflict for athletes as most figure skaters compete under ISU and were still subject to penalties if they took part in Gay Games. This finally changed in 2017 when the Gay Games Paris 2018 organizing committee began talks with the ISU that ultimately opened the door for ISU figure skaters the ability to compete at Gay Games without risking their career and sanctioning with the ISU.

With Skate Canada announcing this updated policy, they have become the first National Governing Body in figure skating to adopt a policy allowing for same sex and gender diverse couples to participate and compete in sanctioned figure skating competitions.

“It was necessary for the ice dance and pair world to change their definition of team from a man and a woman to just two people skating together, however they identify. Many colleagues and I have pushed for this change and are excited that Skate Canada has taken action to make skating more accessible,” said Scott Moir, Skate Canada coach and Olympic Champion. “Our craft is a mixture of athleticism and art and because of this we have a unique opportunity for a level playing field unlike any other sport, regardless of how individuals identify. This change will push the sport forward in many ways with the creation of new and interesting work from athletes that now can perform together.”

While it has been 24 years since the first attempts to sanction a gender diverse and inclusive figure skating competition, there has been a lot of progress stemming from events like Gay Games, Eurogames and International Gay Figure Skating Union that all have played an important role for figure skating and ice dancing to reach this point. From here we are looking forward to seeing the first gender diverse figure skating pairs take to the ice in Canada.

Photo Credit: David W. Carmichael via Wikimedia Commons