Fe­male age change call

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Molly McEl­wee

For­mer Olympian Lisa Ma­son is call­ing for an in­creased min­i­mum age re­quire­ments for fe­male par­tic­i­pants as abuse claims con­tinue to rock the sport. Women only need to be 16 to com­pete at se­nior in­ter­na­tional artis­tic level.

A call for gym­nas­tics to in­crease min­i­mum age re­quire­ments for fe­male par­tic­i­pants has been made by for­mer Olympian Lisa Ma­son.

To com­pete at se­nior level in in­ter­na­tional artis­tic gym­nas­tics, men must turn 18 in the year of the com­pe­ti­tion, but women need only be 16.

Ma­son, who com­peted at the Syd­ney Games in 2000 and last week be­came a whistle­blower for emo­tional and phys­i­cal abuse claims in Bri­tish Gym­nas­tics, be­lieves this age dif­fer­ence is prov­ing harm­ful as it en­cour­ages a fix­a­tion on pre­pubescent fe­male body types and leads to shorter ca­reers.

“We have this nar­ra­tive that [women] are sup­posed to be tiny and look like 10-year-old kids,” Ma­son, 38, said. “For [men] to peak, testos­terone has to kick in, so them be­ing men is ac­tu­ally more ben­e­fi­cial to them. Whereas in women’s, if you look like a woman, or you’re taller and have hips, then you’re no good at this sport, you’re past it, you’re done.”

This de­bate has long-ex­isted in the sport, ever since 14-year-old Nadia Co­maneci’s his­toric per­for­mance at the 1976 Olympics. The Ro­ma­nian’s suc­cess shifted gym­nas­tics to coach younger girls to peak ear­lier, and even saw a rise in age fal­si­fi­ca­tion at ma­jor tour­na­ments. China fielded an un­der-age gym­nast at the Syd­ney Games and were later stripped of their bronze medal.

The In­ter­na­tional Gym­nas­tics Fed­er­a­tion told The Daily Tele­graph that the dif­fer­ence in rules for men and women was based on “phys­i­cal de­vel­op­ment” and that “where phys­i­cal ma­tu­rity at a later age greatly ben­e­fits male gym­nasts, it does not usu­ally pro­vide the same value for women. As a con­se­quence, the gym­nas­tics ca­reers of women are tra­di­tion­ally shorter than that of men”.

As well as lift­ing age min­i­mums, Ma­son ar­gues that elite gym­nas­tics should also al­low for ap­pa­ra­tus, such as the un­even bars, to be adapted ac­cord­ing to the size of the com­peti­tor, to help rid the sport of its un­healthy ob­ses­sion with the pre­pubescent fe­male body type.

“To have that dis­ad­van­tage of not be­ing able to adapt the equip­ment to your growth, I think is way out of line,” Ma­son said.

“Gym­nasts should be able to adapt, es­pe­cially – cru­cially – when they’re grow­ing and de­vel­op­ing. You’ll see so many more gym­nasts com­fort­able and ex­celling if you al­low them to be com­fort­able to grow. That’s the point.”

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