Female age change call
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.”