Figure Skating to Raise Minimum Age to 17 to Protect 'Physical and Mental Health' of Athletes

The International Skating Union cited both physical and mental health concerns for the change in age requirements

Kamila Valieva
Figure skater Kamila Valieva . Photo: Sergei BobylevTASS via Getty

The International Skating Union approved a proposal to raise the minimum age for Olympic-level skaters competing in the sport's top events. The organization held the vote on Tuesday during their biennial meeting in Phuket, Thailand.

According to the approved proposal, the minimum age for athletes will rise from 15 to 17 in an incremental transition beginning next season.

Athletes who are 15 will still be allowed to participate for the upcoming season, but the minimum age will become 16 the following year. The prerequisite will eventually increase to 17 for the 2024-25 season, right before the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Only skaters who have reached the age of 15 before July 1 will be able to compete in senior international events for the 2022-2023 season, the organization said.

The decision to raise age requirements comes months after Russian skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for Trimetazidine after helping her team win an event in February.

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Valieva was 15 when she tested positive for the banned drug, which is used to treat chest pains caused by symptoms of coronary artery disease. The scandal delayed the first-place Russian team's 2022 Winter Olympics medal ceremony.

Figure Skating – Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 13
Kamila Valieva competes in figure skating competition 2022. Getty

The ISU cited physical injury and mental health concerns as a reason for the change in age requirements.

"The ISU Council concluded that for the sake of protecting the physical and mental health, and emotional well-being of Skaters, the most urgently needed change is a gradual increase of the Senior category age limit in the Figure Skating Branch, from 15 years to 17 years," they said in their proposal.

In addition to a demanding schedule, teenage athletes are subject to mounting pressure on a global stage.

Before her positive test, Valieva told the Washington Post, "I believe that I am coping with this pressure... I had this burden of responsibility, but I came out a winner."

The ISU Medical Commission also warned voters of the potential "psychological injuries" that young athletes could suffer from, including long-term mental health struggles.

Rob Koehler, the director general of Global Athlete, told CNN that raising the age limit was a significant step, but sports authorities can do more.

"Raising the age limit cannot dissolve responsibility to ensure minors are protected," he explained. "Young athletes will continue to train to reach their dream of competing internationally therefore a wide range of best practice protocols must be in place to protect every young child entering the sport. This has to include third-party independent reporting lines."

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