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The International Skating Union is raising the minimum age for athletes in its most prestigious competitions from 15 to 17. The move comes months after Russia’s Kamila Valieva was caught up in a storm of controversy at the Beijing Winter Olympics when she was just 15. .
The ISU Congress on Tuesday approved a plan to maintain the same age requirement for the upcoming season, but raise it to 16 the following year and 17 for the 2024-25 season.
The new minimum age will apply to several Olympic disciplines, from speed skating and figure skating to ice dancing and synchronized skating.
Under the new ISU requirements, skaters will need to reach the minimum age by July 1 before the upcoming event – the same deadline as currently used. ISU delegates endorsed the proposed changes at their biennial meeting which is currently underway at a resort in Phuket, Thailand.
The athlete asks: is a medal worth risking a child’s health?
The ISU governing body said the change was necessary to protect young athletes from injuries caused by the physical rigors of elite sport. He also noted mental health concerns about handling the pressures of the global spotlight.
The ISU Athletes’ Commission backed the decision, citing a survey of more than 960 athletes and coaches, revealing that 86% favored raising the age limit to 17 for senior competition.
Eric Radford, three-time Olympic medalist from Canada, spoke on behalf of the athletes.
“An athlete’s life is short and intense. His experience in this short period of his life sets the stage for the rest of his life, physically, mentally and emotionally,” Radford said.
Radford acknowledged the challenges some countries may face in adapting to the age change, including retaining athletes for additional years. But, he added, “hopefully the long-term implications are those that are considered with more weight and importance.
“I ask the question: is a medal worth risking the health of a child or a young athlete?” Radford said.
Delegates approved the proposal by a margin of 100 to 16, with a handful of abstentions – a result that immediately drew cheers and applause.
Calls for change intensified after Valieva’s ordeal
Prior to the Beijing Games, Valieva was considered one of the top contenders for an Olympic medal. But Valieva, who turned 16 at the end of April, then found herself embroiled in huge controversy over a failed drug test. She has come under intense scrutiny, raising questions about her independence from her coaches and putting new emphasis on skating federation rules.
In Beijing, Valieva was the favorite in the women’s individual figure skating event after achieving transcendent early performances, including becoming the first woman to land a quad jump in Olympic competition.
Then news emerged that Valieva had tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart drug banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, in a doping sample taken last December – a finding that should have barred Valieva from going to medical facilities. Olympics first. The case was further complicated by her status as a minor and her ability to consent to medical decisions.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared Valieva to participate in the women’s final. But the teenager’s routine took place on the ice and she broke down in tears.
“Athlete welfare must be the primary concern”
Afterwards, doping expert April Henning from the University of Stirling in Scotland called the result “incredibly disturbing”.
“A 15-year-old under that kind of stress and scrutiny shouldn’t have been on the ice,” Henning said. “At some point, the welfare of the athlete must be the primary concern, especially when the athlete is underage.”
Valieva’s case also prompted the International Olympic Committee to take the extraordinary decision not to hold a medal ceremony for the team figure skating competition in Beijing. Valieva’s Russian team finished in first place in the event, ahead of the American team.