Should there be a lower age limit/minimum age for participation in the Olympics?

I’m not watching the Olympics (I think it should have been called off), but this headline grabbed my attention:

This seems nuts to me. Why not an 8-year old? Or a 5-year old? I would like to see the Olympics limited to adult athletes, minimum age 18.

I’ve been googling in an attempt to find an Olympic mission statement. This seems pretty close:

The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.


I know it says “youth,” but I think there should be a minimum age. The little girls who get into gymnastics, for example, starve themselves, commit to practice-practice-practice to the point of (IMHO) abuse. Not to mention the abuse they sometimes endure from trainers and coaches to whom they become closer than their parents. And then at 15 or 18 or God forbid 20, they’re over the hill.

Yeah, I know other activities involve and overwork children at distressingly young ages, including careers in music and dance. Little kids also work in factories, and on farms, and weave rugs, too. That is not relevant to my point. I’m talking about the Olympics.

I know there children who are quite accomplished in athletics (6-year old female skateboarder), and okay, let’s develop a way for them to be recognized. But not the Olympics.

If you’re going to ask me, should there be an upper age limit, I’ll say I don’t know. What do you think?

I don’t think there should be a lower age limit. If someone is freakishly good at table tennis at 12, let them go to the Olympics. If aspects of a particular sport creates incentives for abuse, (looking at you, gymnastics), change that sport.

Buit would an Olympics age limit help any of this?

@naita and @Thudlow_Boink I shouldn’t have mentioned the overworked child thing. That really wasn’t my point. I’m not saying there should be a lower age limit as a way of curbing abuse. I only mentioned that in passing as one of the unfortunate side effects of letting children compete.

My point has more to do with this:

My bold.

I would like to see athletes in the Olympics compete against well-matched opponents. Not against someone who is freakishly good. I mean, so a 10-year old gymnast can do four mid-air flips because she’s been training since before she could walk and now only weighs 70 lbs-- yeah, it’s freakishly good to watch. But it is a sport? Is it sportsmanship?

This brings me back to the mission of the Olympics, which I’m still not 100% clear on. I see it as a display of talent, skill, training, and sportsmanship among individuals (and teams) who are comparable.

If you have a 12-year old boy who is freakishly good at, say, baseball, do you really enjoy seeing him play on a team with 18-35 year old men? Maybe you do. That bothers me.

I know many will disagree with me, and that’s fine, but does anyone get my point?

If the 12-year-old is as good at their sport as the 30-year-olds, then why not?

But for what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure that there is, in fact, an age limit for the Olympics. Specifically, 12. And there was some controversy the past few times about gymnasts who were suspected of being below that age.

No, I don’t.

I think the 10-year old gymnast out of a borderline-or-actually abusive gymnast factory, whether it be a Chinese almost literal factory or a small team of parents and trainers in some other country robbing a child of a childhood to not be sports or sportsmanship.

But you explicitly stated that was irrelevant to your point. And without that I see no point.

If we want to get back to sport and sportsmanship, let’s bring back the requirement that everyone be an amateur. But that would require the rest of the world of sports also to go back to being about sport and sportsmanship.

I believe there is a minimum age for Olympic female gymnasts. There was suspicion, if I remember rightly, that China was sending 10 or 11_year olds so they upped the minimum age.

Perhaps unlike other sporting events, I think of the Olympics as being about who’s the best in the world, and letting them show off just how good they are, not about evenly-matched competition. So no, I don’t want to say to any athlete, “You can’t compete because you’re so much better than the other athletes that it just wouldn’t be a well-matched competition.” If one athlete is freakishly good, head and shoulders above everyone else, that’s part of the appeal.

(Plus, in many Olympic sports, the athletes aren’t competing directly against one another; they’re comparing their individual best effort against the other competitors’ best efforts.)

Different sports have different physical requirements so people peak at different ages. Women’s gymnastics skews young. I guess the good part is they generally retire by their late teens and can go on to a more normal life (hopefully). You rarely see an 18 year old still competing.

I can’t imagine a 12 year old competing with grown men in baseball because they won’t have the physical strength yet. Seems like that could be physically dangerous. I don’t see the same danger for bodily injury in ping pong.

People would still be training and pushing themselves through their childhood if they have their eyes on the Olympics. I don’t see how raising the age for competition would shield them from potential physical or psychological damage. It might just drag it out longer.

Their are valid concerns about physical and psychological damage done to kids who aim to be Olympians. I just think a larger cultural change would have to happen there to fix that and I think it’s unlikely to happen.

And, honestly, women’s gymnastics is one of the few Olympic sports where the competitors at the games are under age 18. My niece (who is now 16) was involved in serious competitive gymnastics from age 8 or 9, until she was 13, when she suffered a hip injury which ended her competitive career; it absolutely dominated her life (and, honestly, her entire family’s lives) for years, and it likely wasn’t healthy for any of them.

There’s a broader issue around children and teenagers who are good at a sport (whether or not they’re Olympic sports) letting the sport completely dominate their lives, but a minimum age for competitors at the Olympics would do nothing to change that.

(Also, while you may “rarely see an 18 year old competing” in women’s gymnastics in the Olympics, the sport is competitive at the college level, so it’s not like every gymnast is done at 18.)

Well, I’m talking about freakishly good below what I consider an appropriate age limit.

What I see y’all saying (and in the world) is this

I don’t mean “evenly-matched” in terms of ability, only WRT age. I want to see the Olympics as a controlled field, with boundaries, requirements for inclusion and exclusion. I don’t like the idea of the Olympics as a wide-open, anything-goes, free-for-all with the only qualifier being athletic ability, period.

I think there should be competitions that are wide-open, anything-goes exhibitions where a 200-lb muscular 12-year old boy can wrestle with and take down a wiry 35 year-old man. But not the Olympics.

I guess in my mind I have an “Olympic ideal” of some kind… where ordered competitions exemplifying certain values take place in a defined virtual area and where aestheticism and balance count as much as athleticism and winning. I guess that’s just a fairy tale in my own mind… what with drugs, doping, not to mention abuse of athletes at all ages and stages.

<ThelmaLou trudges back to her Platonic cave.>

Well sure, but we are specifically discussing the Olympics here. The thing about college gymnasts is they are…in college, so hopefully also making plans for a career when their bodies can no longer do flips and tumbles. The Olympics is a medal and maybe some endorsement money for a very few and a historical footnote at best for most, if they even get there.

True, and I apologize if it wasn’t clear to me that you were making that distinction.

A woman who is still competing in gymnastics at age 18 or 20, and who isn’t the rarity like Simone Biles (who is competing in the Tokyo Games at age 24), undoubtedly realizes that she’ll never be in the Olympics.

When my niece was active in gymnastics (and she was quite good; she won a state title in her level when she was 11 or 12), while I suspect that her mom (my sister-in-law) dreamed of her being in the Olympics, what I know she was really hoping for was that my niece would continue to excel in gymnastics through her high school years, and be able to get a college scholarship.

Which makes one wonder how much the cost of a college education contributes to kids pushing themselves to unhealthy extremes. But I guess that is a topic for another thread.

No. The whole shamateurism b.s. was to keep the working class out of the Olympics back when things first started. Don’t want any of those sullying our pure games. If you have to work to support yourself you can’t train enough to compete with someone who can practice all the time.

I agree that that is an issue. So in addition to no professionals, a strict limit on practicing too much.

Sigh. My point was restricting the Olympics to only those with enough money to do it as a “career” is limiting yourself to a subset of the population. If an athlete can support himself with his athletics, you’ll have a bigger pool of athletes, and, overall, better quality games. Besides there have never been any pure “amateurs” in the Olympics anyway. It just encourages under the table payments and exploitation.

I don’t have any inherent outrage against professionals. Isn’t that what most people aspire to be?

There’s actually a 16 year old minimum age for Olympic gymnastics. Of the six women who are on the US gymnastics team, two are 24, two are 18, one is 21, and one is 20. That’s younger, but not absurdly so, than most other sports. Based on a quick look, it looks like most of the other US OIympians probably average around 25 years old- some are in their early 20s, some in their late 20s, but few in their thirties or teens.

That’s the fundamental issue; to be world-class at 25, you STILL have to start early and display absurd natural talent. I mean, Ryan Crouser started track and field (shotput) in fifth grade, which is about 11 years old. He’s now 28, and the current world record holder, but he’s been a beast since he started- breaking national records in early high school, for example.

I think that the minimum ought to be set about where it is now- it’s unlikely that someone’s going to have freakishly unnatural talent such that they’re going to be putting the shot 70 meters as a 12 year old, or running the 100 meter dash under 10 seconds as a 14 year old. For most sports, male or female, the vast majority of competitors aren’t going to hit world-class until their early 20s at the earliest. It’s just a handful of sports like gymnastics where being smaller is a definite advantage where extra scrutiny needs to be applied.

Apparently the team is unusually “mature” this year. That has been a slowly growing trend but yeah, it looks like there is a newish age requirement.

“The Magnificent Seven in 1996 had zero women in their 20s, plus a 14-year-old Dominqiue Moceanu who wouldn’t be eligible for the Olympics under new age rules instituted after the Atlanta Games. Gymnasts must now turn 16 in an Olympic year to be eligible.”

There have been a few very young female figure skaters in the past as well, I recall.

I just wildly disagree. The best part of the Olympics is seeing the best in the world compete and having a winner who is the best in the world. If you took some sub section say white christian males it wouldn’t be as interesting. I find the idea that a teenager could be the best in the world fascinating and I’ve known a couple of people to make the US Olympic trials as teenagers.

On the other side of this I’d ban women’s gymnastics from the Olympics. It is just so weird to me that a sport could be dominated by teenagers and it seems the events could be changed so that women and not girls were better at it. I also don’t like judged events so it would get tossed for that too.