August 14, 2008

Olympic Gymnasts and Age

"It's a bike race. A completely arbitrary set of rules that everyone complies with, for no other reason than that some committee says that they should."

- House, Season 2, Episode 6

I've been thinking a lot about the recent controversy over the ages of the Chinese women's gymnastics team. Gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi has alleged that up to half the team is underage and the New York Times published an article at the end of July alleging that previous Chinese state records showed the ages of several gymnasts to be as young as 13 or 14, under the required minimum age of 16. The NBC commentators have brought up the age controversy during coverage of almost every women's gymnasts event.

I think it's interesting to see the way that people are reacting to the accusations, both online and in NBC's coverage. Here's an example of the a blog discussion on the subject. There are also interesting ethical questions, since the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has refused to investigate the situation further, even after the publication of the Times article, and questions raised by journalists, because the Chinese government supplied passports where the girls' ages were all above 16.

Personally, I agree with Cameron from House. That's the point of a sport. It's a set of rules that everyone agrees to follow. The real question is, what can be done about it? Bela Karolyi has said that the only solution is to remove the minimum age requirement, allowing all countries to use younger gymnasts, who many think have an advantage due to their small size and lack of fear. But if the goal of the minimum age rule is to protect young gymnasts from injury or exploitation, then do the IOC and others have a responsibility to look into whether these young women are being exploited?


Also, on a lighter note, what is Michael Phelps listening to on his iPod, and where can I get some of it?


lediva said...

The sport of gymnastics favors the light and lithe. My understanding is that the 16-year old age floor was put in place to prevent a sort of arms race where each nation would go younger and younger to find their next medal winners.

Apparently when the age floor was put in, there was some debate as to whether it should be 18, not 16. The argument was basically, this is the sport of women's gymnastics, so why are girls the ones making up most of the athletes?

libhom said...

This is another reason why I'm glad I'm boycotting the Olympics. The whole thing is rotten.