Minimum age for figure skating rises to 17, following Olympic controversy

After the sport’s governing council agreed Tuesday to raise the minimum age from 15 to 17, ice skaters would have to be at least 17 years old to compete in professional events.

Following the controversy involving Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva at this year’s Beijing Winter Olympics, the International Skating Union (ISU) congress in Phuket, Thailand, reached a resolution.

“It’s a very historic decision,” said ISU President Jan Dijkema, after 100 countries voted in favor of the motion, with only 16 voting against it.

Valieva tested positive for a banned substance in a pre-game doping test when she was 15 years old, ahead of the 2022 Olympic Games.

She was allowed to compete, but after falling many times during her performance in front of a global audience, she broke down in tears.

Valieva, who was expected to win gold, came in fourth place.

The ISU stated that it intended to raise the age limit long before the Valieva case and that it had a responsibility to outstanding adolescent athletes.

The decision was made “to preserve the skaters’ physical and mental health, as well as their emotional well-being,” according to a press release.

The transition will occur in stages. The minimum age will remain at 15 for the upcoming season, rise to 16 for the 2023-24 season, and then to 17 for all subsequent seasons, including the 2026 Winter Games.

Sofia Akateva, a prominent Russian junior figure skater, will have her career disrupted as a result of this. Her birthdate is just a few days beyond the deadline for determining skaters’ ages for the upcoming season, which is July 1. She will be allowed to compete in 2026 now that she is 18 years old.

Before the voting, ISU director-general Fredi Schmid recognised that the organisation had been subjected to public pressure and a “serious attack” in the aftermath of the Valieva scandal.

The sport’s credibility was on the line, he warned conference delegates.

“Obviously, the day of truth is today,” he continued, “since the ISU’s credibility will also be examined.” “Remember that the press and the general public will be watching us intently.”

The medical team for the skating organisation also supported lifting the age limit to 17, claiming that it would assist young skaters both physically and mentally, as well as help them extend their careers.

“I believe it is your moral role and duty as administrators of the sport of skating to offer these young skaters the opportunity and time they require in order to be successful at the senior level,” said Dr. Jane Moran of the ISU’s medical committee.

“During their adolescent years, they have the right to develop as individuals… They don’t require our assistance in competing.”

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The modification would give junior athletes time to reach skeletal maturity, according to a medical analysis released before the vote.

“The issue is that the adolescent athlete may be subjected to excessive training and competition loads associated with high-level competition during a period of recognized skeletal weakness, putting the athlete at greater risk of injury,” according to the medical report.

The report also stated that due to the physical rigors of training and insufficient energy intake, certain elite adolescent athletes may experience a two-year delay in puberty. Eating disorders were also shown to be more common.

Nearly 1,000 professional athletes and coaches were polled by the athletes’ commission, and 86 percent agreed that the age limit should be raised.

Smaller country delegates complained that the reforms will deplete their talent pool and limit their capacity to send athletes to elite contests.

Other smaller skate nations, like as Iceland and Ireland, however, believe that the focus should be on safeguarding children.

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“We have to keep in mind that they are youngsters first and athletes second,” said Ireland’s ISU representative in Phuket.

A proposal to raise the minimum age to 16 years old and then revisit the matter after the 2026 Winter Olympics was defeated.

Young adolescent skaters who are pressured to complete more quadruple jumps face “burnout, disordered diet, and long-term implications of injury,” according to the ISU.

The ISU has banned Russian skaters from international events as a result of the country’s armed invasion of Ukraine.

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