The Olympics is no place for children


2022-02-17 06:00:58

Watching Kamila Valieva weep through her solo routine at the Winter Olympics this week, the solution to her anguish was glaringly obvious. The Russian skater should not have been allowed to compete after testing positive for a banned substance. But the issue goes deeper, to the decision to allow her – or any minor – to compete in Beijing. This messy and devastating episode is proof that child athletes have no place at the Olympics, period.

Some may think this is drastic. There have been special performances by minors at previous Games: Tom Daley’s debut at Beijing 2008 aged 14, or skateboarder Sky Brown’s bronze in Tokyo last summer aged 13, or the most famous teen performance of all, Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci’s historic perfect 10 at the 1976 Montreal Games when she was barely 14. But the overriding negatives exposed by Valieva’s experience – and those of her peers who have had their Olympic dream dragged through the mud by the decisions of the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the International Olympic Committee – far outweigh those outlying positive examples.

Kamila Valieva at the end of her performance on Tuesday.

Kamila Valieva at the end of her performance on Tuesday.Credit:Getty Images

First, there is the obvious issue of fair play. After the CAS and the IOC had cleared Valieva to compete, other athletes highlighted the double standards, while some even threatened to boycott, and those responses are proportionate and well-founded. Should Valieva sweep to gold on Thursday as expected, there will be no medal ceremony and no anthems.

But CAS cannot and should not treat her like everyone else, simply because she is not like everyone else. She is a child, and all under-16s are “protected persons” under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s code, which means she must be subject to lighter penalties. The potential damage of denying her the opportunity to compete overrides the lasting harm to the Olympics itself and the other athletes involved.

And that is the fundamental problem with having under-16s participate at the most important senior competition going: it is impossible to compete on a level playing field because they have the caveat of their date of birth alongside their drug test results.

There is also the wider issue of safeguarding, as this glaring loophole in WADA regulations could mean minors are encouraged to cheat, be that by ambitious coaches or corrupt national federations. While Valieva is the face of this scandal, for all her sporting talent she remains an impressionable and vulnerable 15-year-old girl. The finger must be pointed at the adults entrusted with her care and the organisations that have failed her – most pertinently, the Russian federation and the IOC.

Nadia Comaneci, of Romania, dismounts from the uneven parallel bars during a perfect “10” performance at Montreal, 1976.

Nadia Comaneci, of Romania, dismounts from the uneven parallel bars during a perfect “10” performance at Montreal, 1976.Credit:AP

But even beyond the failed drug test, there were already concerns for Valieva. Her coach Eteri Tutberidze has a reputation for lifting her charges to enormous heights as youngsters but has yet to coach a single athlete to more than one Olympics. Valieva’s gravity-defying quad jumps during her winning performance in the team competition made history, but they also raised questions about safety, as young girls are pushed to learn dangerous and damaging skills which they largely lose the ability to perform post-puberty.

This emphasis on pre-pubescent female bodies is worrying, and has been seen previously in gymnastics, a sport that has battled with safeguarding questions of its own. After Comaneci’s supreme performance in 1976, the age minimum was eventually raised to 16, but more recent abuse cases – particularly in the United States and Great Britain – have prompted some to call for age restrictions to be lifted to 18, as for the men.

#Olympics #place #children

Source by []