ISU Votes to Increase Minimum Competition Age for Skaters

In a historic decision, the International Skating Union (ISU) voted to increase the minimum age for skaters to compete from 15 to 17. The rule change was passed by the ISU Congress earlier this month in response to the Kamila Valieva doping controversy which occurred at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Valieva, the 15-year-old Russian skater who was a favourite to win the women’s gold medal, had tested positive for a banned substance in December of 2021. However, this result was only revealed to the public in February 2022 after she had already helped the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) athletes win the team gold medal. This sparked intense debate about whether Valieva should be allowed to continue competing or not for the remainder of the Olympic games.

Due to her young age, she was held against a different, more protected set of rules than older athletes, and therefore the Court of Arbitration for Sport decided that she was allowed to compete despite the failed drug test. This decision led to very mixed reactions amongst those in the skating world and also prompted an evaluation of the minimum age limits in the sport. Valieva ended up finishing in 4th place after a very uncharacteristic free skate filled with falls.

 After witnessing this event and the intense scrutiny and pressure placed on the back of a young girl, many have come out and spoken about the need to protect these young athletes both physically and emotionally by keeping them out of senior-level competition until a later age. Clearly, the ISU agreed with these sentiments, as the vote to increase the age limit was overwhelmingly positive. This new rule will be introduced in a staggered manner. 15-year-olds will still be able to compete in senior competition next season, with the minimum age being 16 for the 2023-2024 season, and then 17 the year after. By the 2026 Milano Cortina Olympics, the new rule will be fully in place. This change affects not only figure skating but also synchronized skating and speed skating.

Former skater and 3x Olympic medalist Kaetlyn Osmond commented on the ISU’s decision, saying “with the ISU raising the age to 17, I think it is one of the best things that could be a part of the sport.” She further spoke about attending her first Olympic Games at age 18 and being burnt out by the time she was 22. Osmond believes that raising the minimum age will “help the longevity of the sport” and allow athletes’ bodies to mature fully before entering into this elite, pressure-filled level of competition.

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