Phuket (Thailand) – A big change: Four months after the resounding Valieva incident that made the leap to the Beijing Olympics, the International Skating Federation (ISU) on Tuesday raised the minimum age for figure skaters to enter senior competitions to 17.
Discussions about the very young age of skaters, and especially skaters, have resurfaced during the Olympic Games after the Russian Kamila Valieva. The young skater, who was a big favorite for the Olympic title at just 15 years old, came under pressure after finding himself in the middle of a doping scandal.
Approved by delegates from 100 countries at the ISU Congress in Phuket, Thailand, the reform will be implemented in two phases. The minimum age will be increased to 16 in the 2023-2024 season and then to 17 in the 2024-2025 season.
Purpose: To prevent physical and mental breakdowns of skaters whose senior sports careers are often too short.
ISU president Jan Dijkema welcomed, saying, “This is a historic decision,” while Fredi Schmid, the body’s executive director, described the vote as “a real moment” ahead of the opening of Congress.
“The reliability of the ISU will be tested,” he added. “The media and the public will be watching us very closely.”
– “Moral imperative” –
The ISU emphasized that raising the age limit long before the Valieva trial was on its agenda and acknowledged that it is its duty to protect the health of young athletes.
The reform had previously received the approval of the International Federation’s medical commission.
“It is your moral obligation and duty to provide young skaters with the opportunity and time to develop the skills they need to succeed at a high level,” said Dr Jane Moran, who chairs the medical commission. “They have the right to develop as people in their teenage years. They don’t need us to force them to compete.”
According to the ISU Athletes Commission’s survey of 1,000 skaters and coaches, 86% of them favor raising the minimum age.
Figure skating is indeed a demanding sport in which young girls chain hours of repetitive training, jumping and pirouettes at an age when their bodies are still in development.
To be successful in triple or even quadruple jumps, a slim silhouette is also a definite advantage, and after puberty, as the size thickens, it becomes more difficult to master jumps. Later, the skaters find themselves on the sidelines and are replaced by younger ones.
– “Everyone is against us” –
During the Valieva event, Russia, a flagship country that is constantly producing new champions in the discipline, was particularly chosen.
There were immediate reactions to the ISU vote in the country. Former coach-consultant Tatiana Tarassova told Russian agency TASS, “If the age is removed, it will be removed. We will still win.”
“The decision is mainly for us” and became a coach, scolding Alexander Zhulin, the former star of the discipline, who won an Olympic medal in ice dancing in 1994, for his part. “Everyone knows that our 15-16 year old girls cannot be beaten. Everyone is against us right now, so this decision was not surprising.”
For 2014 Olympic champion Maxim Trankov, “in general, the measure is neither the most accurate nor the most effective”: “Only Russian girls can do the quadruple jump at any age,” Ria told the Novosti agency.
Former European champion German Norbert Schramm found this decision insufficient and described it as “dust in his eyes”.
“It’s a first step, but I don’t think it can do anything positive for the sport. It’s not good enough. 17-year-olds have no place in sports. Professionals,” he told sports agency SID.
He wants the minimum age to be raised to “at least 18, the best 21”: “physically, mentally, and also doping. Young athletes are too dependent on their environment,” he thinks.
During the discussions, some representatives of smaller countries also argued that these changes would negatively affect their talent pool.
But other smaller skating nations such as Iceland and Ireland stressed that the priority should be to protect athletes. “We have to remember that they are children first, athletes second,” said the Irish representative in Phuket.