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The International Skating Union is raising the minimum age for athletes in its most high-profile competitions from 15 to 17. The move comes months after Russia’s Kamila Valieva was caught in a storm of controversy at the Beijing Winter Olympics when she was just 15 years old .
The ISU Congress approved a plan Tuesday to keep the age requirement the same for the upcoming season, but to raise it to 16 in the following year and to 17 for the 2024-25 season.
The new age minimum will apply to several Olympic disciplines, from speed skating and figure skating to ice dance and synchronized skating.
Under the new ISU requirements, skaters will have to reach the minimum age by July 1 before the upcoming event — the same cutoff date that’s currently used. ISU delegates approved the proposed changes during their biennial meeting that’s now underway at a resort in Phuket, Thailand.
Athlete asks: Is a medal worth risking the health of a child?
The ISU’s leadership council said the change was needed to protect young athletes from injury from the physical rigors of elite sport. It also noted mental health concerns about coping with the pressures of the global spotlight.
The ISU’s Athletes Commission backed the move, citing a survey of more than 960 athletes and coaches finding 86% supported raising the age limit to 17 for senior competitions.
Eric Radford, a three-time Olympic medalist from Canada, spoke on the athletes’ behalf.
“The life of an athlete is short and intense. Their experience in this short period of their lives sets the stage for the rest of their lives, physically, mentally and emotionally,” Radford said.
Radford acknowledged the difficulties some countries might face in adapting to the age change — including retaining athletes for additional years. But, he added, “I hope that the long-term implications are the ones that are considered with more weight and importance.
“I pose the question: is a medal worth risking the health of a child or a young athlete?” Radford said.
Delegates approved the proposal by a 100-16 margin, with a handful of abstentions — a result that immediately drew whoops of celebration and applause.
Calls for change grew louder after Valieva’s ordeal
Ahead of the Beijing Games, Valieva was seen as a top contender for an Olympic medal. But Valieva, who turned 16 in late April, then became embroiled in a massive controversy over a failed drug test. She faced intense scrutiny, raising questions about her independence from her coaches and putting a new focus on the skating federation’s rules.
In Beijing, Valieva was the favorite going into the women’s individual figure skating event after turning in 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 collected last December — a finding that Valieva should have barred from going to the Olympics in the first place. The case was further complicated by her status as a minor and her ability to consent in medical decisions.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport allowed Valieva to participate in the women’s final. But the teenager’s routine unraveled on the ice, and she collapsed into tears.
‘Athlete well-being must be the main concern’
Afterward, doping expert April Henning of the University of Stirling in Scotland called the outcome “incredibly troubling.”
“A 15-year-old child under that kind of stress and scrutiny should not have been on the ice,” Henning said. “At some point, athlete well-being must be the main concern — especially when the athlete is a minor.”
Valieva’s case also prompted the International Olympic Committee to take the extraordinary step of not holding a medal ceremony for the team figure skating competition in Beijing. Valieva’s Russian squad finished in first place in the event, ahead of the US team.