The women’s figure skating event at the past Olympics has degenerated into a farce. Because the focus was not on the sporting achievements, but on an alleged doping offense by the Russian athlete Kamila Valiyeva, who was 15 at the time. It was literally broken in the freestyle due to the enormous pressure.
As dramatically as the events in Beijing came to a head from the point of view of child and youth protection, they were probably just as important in opening the eyes of the last blinded officials. The fact that the world ice skating association ISU has raised the minimum age for the upcoming winter games in Milan and Cortina from 15 to 17 years is a step that is long overdue.
There are numerous examples of physical and mental pain that so-called figure skating prodigies endure on their way to stardom. In Russia it is even considered a kind of business model, with very young girls who are not yet physically mature, rehearsing quadruple jumps and then raking in the cash at competitions – more for the country than for themselves.
Even if the upheavals in figure skating are particularly dramatic, children and teenagers are also competing in other sports. The prime example is Japan’s 2021 Olympic skateboarding champion, who was 13 when she won the gold medal in her home country. For the International Olympic Committee, which urgently wants and needs to reach younger target groups, this medal was a blessing. However, the path for Momiji Nishiya is associated with many hardships. And with the constant risk of seriously damaging oneself in the pursuit of perfection.
Children who have not yet reached puberty cannot make far-reaching decisions for their lives themselves. They need caring parents and a framework that reduces abuse. A minimum age plays a not inconsiderable role.