Wunderkinder are too valuable for the Olympic system to set age limits

Kamila Valieva' doping case raised questions about a minimum age for Olympic athletes. The Games thrive on high-performing children – some of them so young that they are not even allowed to compete in the Youth Olympic Games. Children are vulnerable to authoritarian states chasing medals and glory.

Kamila Valieva. (Photo: NOC of Russia.)
Kamila Valieva. (Photo: NOC of Russia)

Why it is so hard for Olympic sports federations to set age limits? The age rules are defined very differently in the seven Olympic winter sports federations. It is no different among the summer sports federations. Age regulations sometimes differ even within these federations, depending on the sport, discipline, or gender. In the International Skating Union (ISU), a proposal to raise the minimum age in figure skating from fifteen to seventeen years failed most recently in June 2018. Of course, at the ISU congress at the time, the Russians also voted against this proposal.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) introduced the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) at its 2007 Session in Guatemala. Why are there these global competitions called YOG, when at the same time children participate in – how shall we say: real – Olympic Games? Why is there so little coordination? Why has not even the IOC, as the sole owner of these circus events, reminded us of these Youth Games in the bitter discussions of the past weeks?

Some answers to these questions are: Because there are no clear, plausible age rules. The rules have been interpreted and changed for ages to suit the needs of the moment. And so, when – as in the case of Valieva – the whole world watches children obviously being abused as human material by medal scoundrels, then crocodile tears flow. Then the IOC president Thomas Bach, whose marketing department also turns children’s high-performance sport into money, talks about the values and lack of empathy of Kamila Valieva’s coach Eteri Tutberidze and the entire entourage.

Some thoughts on competitive sport in totalitarian systems

Before I go into the question of age limits in more detail, I would first like to express some thoughts on competitive sport in totalitarian systems. Because one is definitely related to the other.