Whe­lan backs rais­ing women’s age limit to 18

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Rugby Union - Gym­nas­tics By Molly McEl­wee

Hannah Whe­lan, the two-time Olympian, has be­come the most high-pro­file for­mer Bri­tish gym­nast to call for the min­i­mum age for fe­male com­peti­tors to be raised from 16 to 18.

In­ter­na­tional Gym­nas­tics Fed­er­a­tion (FIG) rules stip­u­late that men can­not com­pete in se­nior com­pe­ti­tion, in­clud­ing the Olympics and World Cham­pi­onships, un­less they turn 18 in the same year. But fe­male com­peti­tors can do so from as young as 16.

As first re­ported in the The Daily Tele­graph last week, for­mer Com­mon­wealth cham­pion Lisa Ma­son said chang­ing the min­i­mum age of se­nior-level fe­male ath­letes would help im­prove con­di­tions, af­ter a del­uge of abu­sive coach­ing claims have been made by gym­nasts around the world.

On Wed­nes­day night, she and fel­low Bri­tish whistle­blower Cather­ine Lyons, along with Amer­i­can abuse sur­vivors Jen­nifer Sey and Rachael Den­hol­lan­der, echoed that point in an ITV News in­ter­view, and Whe­lan agrees.

Now a coach at War­ring­ton Gym­nas­tics Club, the Com­mon­wealth medal­list ar­gued that more was be­ing asked of gym­nasts from a younger age than when she was in the sys­tem.

“I think it would be a great idea [to raise the age],” Whe­lan, 28, said. “I think, es­pe­cially in this coun­try, the way the elite com­pul­sory sys­tem has evolved, so the set rou­tines they have to do from a cer­tain age to go up a grade, is just get­ting harder and harder.

“From when I did it, at nine, 10, 11 years old, it’s much harder for gym­nasts the same age now. They’re be­ing pushed to do ridicu­lous hours, pushed to have more time off school, which is just crazy. They’re do­ing scarier skills, which is maybe putting more pres­sure on the coaches. The kids are do­ing the skills through fear rather than tak­ing their time to learn them.”

Last week, the FIG told The Tele­graph “where phys­i­cal ma­tu­rity at a later age greatly ben­e­fits male gym­nasts, it does not usu­ally pro­vide the same value for women”, but Whe­lan ar­gued those tra­di­tional no­tions were shift­ing. She said gym­nasts such as Becky Downie, a con­tem­po­rary and a world sil­ver medal­list, and 23-year-old su­per­star Si­mone Biles, were con­tin­u­ing at elite level well into their twen­ties, mean­ing there was no need to rush young girls into se­nior com­pe­ti­tion.

“Up un­til a few years ago you wouldn’t hear of fe­male ath­letes car­ry­ing on past the age of 20, now it’s much more com­mon and sup­ported,” Whe­lan said. “That’s also be­cause of the sci­ence and re­search be­hind it, there’s so much more knowl­edge we have to keep gym­nasts in the sport for longer, so why start them at 16?”

Too low: Hannah Whe­lan, who com­peted at two Olympics, wants the age limit for se­nior women raised from 16

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