Ice skating raises minimum age from 15 to 17 in ‘historic’ move

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Bangkok (AFP) – Ice skaters will have to be at least 17 to compete in senior competition after the sport’s governing body voted on Tuesday to raise the minimum age to 15.

The decision by the International Skating Union (ISU) congress in Phuket, Thailand, came months after a drug scandal at the Beijing Winter Olympics involving then 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva .

“It’s a very historic decision,” ISU president Jan Dijkema said after 100 countries voted in favor of the measure, with just 16 opposed.

Valieva failed a drug test before the Games but was cleared to compete, then collapsed after falling several times during her performance, in the spotlight around the world.

She finished outside of the medals with questions swirling about the influence of those around her following a tense and tearful post-routine encounter with her coach.

The ISU said raising the age limit was on its agenda long before the Valieva case and acknowledged it had a duty of care to elite teenage athletes.

The change will be phased in over the next few years, reaching the age of 17 in the 2024/25 season.

Ahead of the vote, ISU Director General Fredi Schmid acknowledged that the body had faced media pressure and a “major attack” following the Olympics and reminded delegates that the reputation sport was at stake.

“The moment of truth is obviously today because the credibility of the ISU will also be scrutinized. The media and the public will be watching us very closely, so remember that,” he said.

“Children First”

The skating body’s medical opinion backed raising the age limit to 17, arguing that it would benefit young skaters physically and mentally and help prolong their careers.

“I believe that as administrators of the sport of skating, it is your moral obligation and duty to provide these young skaters with the opportunity and time to develop…the skills they need to succeed. at the senior level,” said Dr. Jane Moran. of the body’s medical commission said.

“They have the right to develop as people during their teenage years… They don’t need us to force them to compete.”

A medical report said the change would give junior athletes time to reach skeletal maturity.

“The concern is that during a period of known skeletal vulnerability, the adolescent athlete may be exposed to excessive training and competition loads associated with high level competition, which puts the athlete at greater risk of injury,” the medical report said.

He also warned that some elite adolescent athletes could experience delayed puberty by an average of two years due to the physical demands of training and insufficient energy intake.

He noted that some were at higher risk of developing eating disorders.

The Athletes’ Commission surveyed almost 1,000 athletes and coaches and 86% were in favor of lifting the age limit.

Some representatives of smaller countries argued that the changes would negatively impact their talent pool as skaters and their ability to send athletes to elite competitions.

But other smaller skating nations like Iceland and Ireland have argued the focus should be on protecting youngsters.

“We have to remember that they are children first and athletes second,” said the Irish representative in Phuket.

An amendment to raise the minimum age to 16 and then wait until after the 2026 Winter Olympics to revisit the issue was defeated.

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