Figure skating’s global governing body voted Tuesday to gradually increase the minimum age limit for elite competitors to 17 over the next three years. It characterized the move as an effort to safeguard “the physical and mental health, and emotional well-being” of skaters, but made its decision only after facing worldwide criticism for a doping scandal involving a 15-year-old Russian champion that marred the women’s singles event at this year’s Beijing Winter Olympics.
The rule change raising the age limit was approved at the annual meeting of the body, the International Skating Union, in Phuket, Thailand. The change will be gradual, the skating union said: There will be no change for the 2022-23 competition season. But so-called senior skaters will need to be 16 years old in 2023-24, and 17 in the 2024-25 campaign.
The phase-in means the new, higher age limit will be in place in time for the next Winter Olympics, at Milan and Cortina, Italy, in 2026.
The decision comes only months after a major doping scandal at the Winter Olympics in Beijing involving Kamila Valieva, a Russian skater who was just 15 at the time. Valieva, one of the top skaters in the world and the favorite to win the gold medal, was found to have tested positive for a banned substance in the run-up to Olympic competition. The scandal raised questions about the physical and mental safety of young skaters, and whether enough was being done to protect them from the adults guiding their careers.
The proposal had seemed to have broad support in the international figure skating community, where the issue of implementing some sort of minimum age had been discussed and debated for years.
It was passed at the meeting Tuesday by a vote of 100 to 16, with two abstentions.