International Law of Olympics Age Minimums

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 International Law of Olympics Age Minimums

During the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese female gymnastics team came under some criticism from the media for allegedly having underage competitors. During the 1980s and 1990s, there were at least 7 cases of underage gymnasts. Gymnastics experts and coaches believe that age 15 is optimal for flexibility and ability.

In the Olympic Games, gymnastics is governed by administrative bodies, organizations, and committees, chief among them being the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Olympic Charter contains the IOC’s principles, rules, and bylaws. The Charter does not specify an age requirement.

The federations governing individual sports set minimum and maximum ages per safety standards and other considerations. Bobsledding has a minimum age of 14, soccer has a maximum age of 23, and boxing is 17-32. The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), founded in 1881, set the minimum age at 14 in 1981, 15 in 1985, and 16 in 1997. Because FIG is an international organization based in Switzerland (as is IOC), it is heavily influenced by international law issues such as human and child rights, trade and negotiations, and international arbitration.

FIG is primarily responsible for checking and enforcing its own minimum age. The FIG receives the passports of the gymnasts from the national gymnastics associations. In turn, the Chinese Gymnastics Association applied for athlete passports based on legal identification cards issued by local governments.

FIG may ban a country from competing in future events if it finds inconsistent evidence that amounts to fraud. It happened to the North Korean Gymnastics Federation when it submitted data claiming a gymnast was a certain age for three consecutive years. Media and politics often play a major role in influencing governmental action in international law – media can investigate and discover evidence of conflicting age documents.

The International Skating Union has since raised the minimum age for athletes in its most prestigious competitions from 15 to 17 years of age. Russia’s Kamila Valieva was involved in a storm of controversy at the Beijing Winter Olympics when she was just 15 years old.

The age requirement will remain the same for the upcoming season but will rise to 16 for the following season and to 17 for the 2024-25 season, ahead of the 2026 Winter Olympics.

After the ISU Congress approved the changes at its biennial meeting, the new age minimum will apply to several disciplines, including speed and figure skating, ice dance, and synchronized skating.

The ISU has stipulated that skaters must reach the minimum age by July 1 before the upcoming event – the same as the current cut-off date. ISU delegates approved the proposed changes during their biennial meeting that took place at a resort in Phuket, Thailand.

Valieva was seen as a top medal contender in Beijing. However, she was caught up in a massive doping scandal. There was intense scrutiny and pressure placed on her, raising questions about her independence from her coaches and putting the ISU’s rules under the spotlight.

Is a Medal Worth Endangering the Health of an Underage Minor?

The ISU’s leadership council said this change would protect young athletes from injuries resulting from elite sports’ physical demands. It also noted mental health concerns about dealing with the pressures of global fame.

ISU’s Athletes Commission used the results of a survey of more than 960 athletes and coaches, indicating that 86% supported raising the age limit to 17 for senior competitions.

An Olympic athlete’s lifespan in their sport is short and intense. Their experiences during this short period set the stage for the rest of their lives, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Does a medal justify putting a child’s health at risk?

With just a handful of abstentions, delegates approved the proposal by a margin of 100-16 – a result that immediately drew cheers and applause.

The U.S. Wanted to Delay the Move to 17

Troy Goldstein, representing the U.S., sided with a few other delegates in saying that the ISU should pause until after the next Winter Olympics to raise the minimum age to 17.

Goldstein said it was “absolutely” the correct decision to raise the age to 16. He said moving to 17 before the 2026 Winter Games in Italy would affect skater development, particularly in disciplines such as pairs skating.

Slobodan Delic, the Serbian delegate, shared Goldstein’s sentiments. It was also noted that the U.S. has previously benefited from the ISU’s age policies, referring to Tara Lipinski’s gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Experts Call the Change “A Good First Step”

April Henning, an expert in sports doping at the University of Stirling in Scotland, said that elite sport’s physical, emotional, and social pressures could be overwhelming for adults and even worse for children. She noted that changing the age is a good first step for several reasons.
Henning observes that in sports like figure skating or gymnastics, where athletes whose bodies haven’t yet fully developed can have an advantage, competitors may be treated more like small adults rather than vulnerable children.

“In terms of doping, this may offer some protection, but there really needs to be greater independent oversight of how youth athletes are treated as they develop by coaches and others,” Henning said. As a result, athletes who have yet to enter the anti-doping system may be more vulnerable to coercion and risk of harm from use.

After Valieva’s Ordeal, Calls for Change Increased

Valieva was the favorite going into the women’s individual figure skating event in Beijing, where she turned 16 in late April. She displayed transcendent performances during her early career, including becoming the first woman to land a quad jump during an Olympic competition.

Valieva had tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart drug prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Her status further complicated the case as a minor and her ability to consent to medical decisions.

Valieva was allowed to participate in the women’s final by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. However, the teenager’s routine unraveled on the ice, and she collapsed in tears.

As a result of Valieva’s case, the International Olympic Committee decided not to hold a medal ceremony for the team figure skating competition in Beijing. Valieva’s Russian team won the event, ahead of the U.S. team.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Professional, world-class, and Olympic athletes have been represented by personal injury attorneys regarding various legal issues and legal problems. Specifically, an athlete legal representation attorney can assist professional and Olympic athletes with litigation disputes, contract drafting, contract negotiation, liability concerns, recreation law concerns, and sports marketing concerns.

If you are an injured athlete, a government lawyer is familiar with many legal issues that world-class athletes face before, during, and after their competition. Athletes should be as free of legal problems as possible so that they can focus on their passion: their sport.

Our athlete-representation attorneys understand the challenges that world-class athletes face every day. Do not hesitate. If you are an athlete facing a legal issue, use LegalMatch to contact an experienced sports representation lawyer or personal injury lawyer near you today. Whether you are a trainer, an athlete, or a parent of an underage competitor, a lawyer on our site can help you. Contact a lawyer today.

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