Eric Radford, a three-time Olympic medalist from Canada, raised his microphone at a meeting of the world governing body of figure skating on Tuesday, where delegates were preparing to vote to raise the minimum age limit for elite competitors. in this sport at 17 years old. the next three years.
“The life of an athlete is short and intense,” said Radford, a representative of the organization’s athletes, the International Skating Union. “Experience in this short period of their lives sets the stage for the rest of their lives, physically, mentally and emotionally.”
Radford acknowledged that any change could create short-term disruptions in the sport, which has featured more and more young athletes performing spectacular acrobatic moves.
But he added, “Is a medal worth endangering the health of a child or young athlete?”
Moments later, delegates voted 100 to 16, with two abstentions, to approve the proposal, a decision that could significantly change the complexion of one of the most popular Olympic sports on the international stage.
The ISU later characterized the move as an effort to safeguard skaters’ “physical and mental health and emotional well-being.” But the decision came only after the governing body faced global criticism over a doping scandal involving a 15-year-old Russian champion who soiled the women’s individual event at the Beijing Olympics this year. year.
The change, which took place at a meeting of the body in Phuket, Thailand, will be gradual: there will be no change for the 2022-23 competition season. But so-called senior skaters will have to be 16 in 2023-24, and 17 in the 2024-25 campaign.
Progressive entry means the new upper age limit will be set in time for the upcoming 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina, Italy.
In Phuket on Tuesday, attendees in the conference room where the meeting was held burst into applause when the vote count was shown on the screen.
“This is a very important decision,” said Jan Dijkema, the president of the ISU, about the change of rules as the applause subsided. “I would say a very historic decision.”
The decision comes after a major doping scandal at the Beijing Winter Olympics involving Kamila Valieva, a Russian skater who was only 15 at the time. It was found that Valieva, one of the best competitors in the world, tested positive for a banned substance before the Olympic competition.
Valieva, who had helped Russia win a gold medal in the team competition before her positive test was publicly disclosed, was allowed to compete in the individual event, which she enjoyed winning. But amid the whirlwind scandal, he finished fourth with an unusually uninspired free skate.
Calvary again raised questions about the physical and mental safety of young skaters and whether enough is being done to protect them from the adults who guide their careers.
Speaking during the Games, Thomas Bach, chairman of the International Olympic Committee, called on sports federations to examine the conduct of the so-called entourage after seeing how Valieva’s coaches interacted with her after she stumbled on her performance.
“It was terrifying to see that,” Bach said of the interactions between Valieva and his coach Eteri Tutberidze. “Instead of comforting her, instead of trying to help her, you could feel that creepy atmosphere, that distance.”
The proposal seemed to have broad support for the international figure skating community, where for years the issue of the introduction of some kind of minimum age was discussed and debated.
The ISU Athletes Commission cited polls from its members that showed the vast majority of its athletes wanted to raise the minimum age limit.
However, there were some people in the sport who opposed any change, often citing the short-term interruptions it would impose on the careers of young athletes and the federations that support them in their pursuit of medals.
Tatiana Tarasova, a figure skating coach in Russia, suggested in an interview on Match TV that the rule was made specifically to target the Russian team.
“They see that there are a lot of girls and boys in our country, and they want to block it,” Tarasova said. “That’s why they started this whole maneuver. They can only block it by withdrawing from the competition.”