By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - The four-man bobsleigh may have to be renamed after the sport's governing body announced a ground-breaking move on Thursday to allow women alongside the men in mixed gender teams when the season starts.
"We follow the spirit and movements of our time. There is a strong belief in the FIBT that men and women can compete together in four-man," said International Bobsleigh and Tobogganing president Ivo Ferriani.
"Therefore the executive committee decided to support equal opportunities for men and women in that discipline," he added in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the FIBT said mixed teams would have to qualify for events in the normal way but could compete in the World Cup and other competitions. There would also be nothing to stop all-women teams taking part.
The World Cup season starts in Lake Placid in December, with Europa Cup, North America Cup and Intercontinental Cup events held in November. The world championships are in Winterberg, Germany, in February/March 2015.
Four-man bobsleigh adds two crew to the brakeman and pilot that make up a two-man team and features heavier sleds, which are also faster and harder to turn.
Women have competed in pairs only since the early 1990s, with women's bobsleigh added to the Olympic program as a full medal sport from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
However, four-woman demonstration events have been held in North America, where woman have campaigned for the right to join the men.
Twice Olympic gold medalist Kaillie Humphries of Canada said at this year's Sochi Games that she wanted to pilot a four-man bobsleigh, although she recognized safety might be a concern for the governing body.
"If you ask the women, then yes, there is a mood for it. If you ask any of the old school men in the program, it's not exactly the most thrilling idea to some people," she told Reuters at the time.
"Bobsleigh is still an old boy's club in some aspects."
Humphries, who has driven a four-man sled in training, said in Sochi that she wanted to compete alongside men if only to demonstrate that it was possible.
"Who knows, maybe I'll suck at four-man but I want the opportunity to be able to do it," she said.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)