“You have to be resilient”: Young athletes create history, but at what price?

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Records by child athletes have reignited debates around age restrictions at global sporting events such as the Olympics.

Mazel Paris Alegado, a nine-year-old skateboarder from the Philippines, made history at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, earlier this year – becoming the competition’s youngest-ever participant.

The prodigy made it all the way to the women’s Skateboarding Park Final on September 25.

Raising both her fists into the air jubilantly, Alegado smiled from ear to ear as she finished seventh.

Alegado’s aim now is to turn pro, and she has inspired many around the world with her exceptional skills in a nascent sporting career.

But her achievements have also reignited debates around age restrictions at global sporting events such as the Olympics.

Skateboarding, in particular, has attracted many young female athletes.

Prior to Alegado’s record, nine-year-old skateboarder Aliqqa Kayyisa Noverry became Indonesia’s youngest athlete at the Asian Games in 2018.

In July 2021, 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya of Japan made history by becoming the first Olympic champion in the women’s street skateboarding competition, and the fifth-youngest gold medallist in Olympic history.

At the 2020 Summer Olympics, Great Britain’s Sky Brown – who reached the national skateboarding team at the age of 10 in 2019 – went on to win the bronze medal in the women’s park skateboarding event. She became the UK’s youngest-ever medal winner at the age of 13.

In other sports, Syria’s Hend Zaza became the youngest athlete in Tokyo 2020 when she competed in table tennis – which has no age restrictions – aged 12.

While skateboarding has no lower age limit in competitions such as the Asian Games or the Olympics, some countries impose age limits.

“Had Mazel Paris Alegado lived in Norway, she would not have been allowed to compete in the Asian Games,” said Kari Fasting, a

Debates over age limitations at international athletic events like the Olympics have resurfaced due to records set by young athletes.

Nine-year-old Philippine skateboarder Mazel Paris Alegado created history earlier this year at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, by being the youngest competitor in history.

On September 25, the prodigy advanced all the way to the women’s Skateboarding Park Final.

Alegado triumphantly raised her hands in the air and grinned broadly at finishing seventh.

Alegado’s current goal is to become a professional athlete. Her remarkable abilities in her early athletic career have inspired many people worldwide.

However, her accomplishments have also rekindled discussions about age limitations at international competitions like the Olympics.

Particularly skateboarding has drawn a lot of young female athletes.

Before Alegado broke the record, skateboarder Aliqqa Kayyisa Noverry, at nine years old, was the youngest athlete from Indonesia to compete in the Asian Games in 2018.

Momiji Nishiya, a 13-year-old Japanese competitor in the women’s street skateboarding discipline, made history in July 2021 when she became the first Olympic champion and the fifth-youngest gold medallist in Olympic history.

Sky Brown of Great Britain, who joined the national skateboarding squad in 2019 at the age of ten, went on to win the bronze medal in the women’s park skateboarding competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics. At thirteen, she became the youngest medal winner in UK history.

In other sports, Hend Zaza of Syria made history as the youngest competitor in Tokyo 2020 when she participated at the age of 12 in table tennis, a sport with no age limitations.

While there is no lower age limit for skateboarding in tournaments like the Olympics or the Asian Games, several nations have age restrictions.

“Mazel Paris Alegado would not have been permitted to compete in the Asian Games if she had resided in Norway,” stated Kari Fasting, an emeritus professor at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences’ Department of Sport and Social Sciences.

According to the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports (NIF), the umbrella organization in charge of setting up national sports federations in the nation, nine out of ten youngsters in Norway participate in one or more sports.

Children from Norway are not allowed to participate in national tournaments until they are 12 due to age limitations imposed by the NIF.

According to Fasting, “Children in Norway are not permitted to compete in Norwegian Championships, European Championships, World Championships, or similar competitions until the year they turn 12.”

She was speaking about the NIF safety protocols that are put in place to establish safe training grounds that foster friendships and let kids decide which sports and how long they want to practice.

Athletes spoke with Al Jazeera about the exhilaration and stress faced by young contestants like as Alegado.

in the age of sixteen, professional runner Viwe Jingqi from South Africa participated in her first international race in the World Juniors in Kenya.

Jingqi started running at the age of ten years old. She was born in the South African settlement of Engcobo in the Eastern Cape region.

In 2022, she broke global records by finishing a 100-meter race in 11.24 seconds and broke a 40-year-old national youth record in South Africa by finishing a 200-meter race in 23.03 seconds, making her the fastest female under-18 runner in the world.

“It’s incredible to be able to represent your country at such a young age,” Jingqi told Al Jazeera.

The fact that a girl [Alegado’s] age can attend a tournament is incredible.

“[But] mentally, you have to be tough in every way because losing as a child will affect you greatly.”

Jingqi, 18, whose passion for running was sparked by her late brother and father, has faced many obstacles in her transition from high school to professional athlete. She is currently enrolled in her first year of university.

It’s twice as difficult, Jingi remarked. “I moved to a better city with better facilities, instead of running for my village or my underprivileged home background,” Jingqi stated.

“A great deal of emotional and mental stability are required.”

Jingqi has been under criticism for her appearance, especially throughout her adolescence, much like South African star Caster Semenya, who won gold in the women’s 800 meters at the 2016 Olympic Games and is also a three-time world champion in the distance.

She remarked, “I was a very muscular kid.” “A girl should normally have curves, not arms like mine,” the woman said. “My peers bullied me a lot.”

At the age of six, Zahid Sufian, a 16-year-old college student in the United Kingdom, started playing tennis at a community program in Tower Hamlets, East London, with his mother’s support.

Since he was seven years old, he has participated in county, regional, and national competitions. At nine years old, he traveled to the United States to play.

He is currently figuring out how to balance his tennis training with academic coursework.

“I was homeschooled when I was younger, so I was able to train during the day,” Sufian remarked.

“I could train whenever I really wanted to, in the morning, afternoon, and evening.”

Sufian said, “It’s tougher,” since he was studying for his A-levels at a sixth-form institution with a rigid schedule and higher academic expectations.

Before the coronavirus epidemic, Sufian’s father, Abu Sufian, accompanied his son to national events around the nation and emphasized the significance of ensuring that young sportsmen like his son have outlets other than athletics.

He claimed that in order to avoid burnout, it was necessary to nurture and enhance his emotional welfare.

“Elite tennis players, both male and female, are surrounded by a team and occasionally engage in card games, chess, or video games. To divert their attention, they’re engaging in activities other than tennis,” he remarked.

“It could have negative consequences if you are overly focused on one thing, which they are most of the time.”

“It’s probably going to hurt.”

The hazards and expectations in professional sport have been further brought to light by a series of doping scandals, incidents of underage athletes falsifying their age, and scandals involving coaches and sexual assault over the years.

After a doping case involving Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, who was 15 at the time of the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, the International Skating Union decided to raise the age requirement for competitors in its most prestigious competitions from 15 to 17. This change would take effect three years before the 2026 Winter Olympics.

There are now more age-appropriate Olympic options available.

The inaugural Youth Olympic Games, featuring young athletes between the ages of 15 and 18, were held in Singapore in 2010. The city of Senegal, Dakar, is scheduled to host the fourth edition; however, due to the coronavirus epidemic, it was postponed until 2026.

The director general of Global Athlete, an athlete-led organization that promotes the welfare and rights of athletes throughout the world, is Rob Koehler.

“The idea behind the Youth Games was to provide a secure arena where the top young athletes in the world could compete in a safe and age-appropriate setting while also being exposed to specially designed educational programs,” he explained.

Koehler said that while age limitations differ from nation to tournament, there should be a global standard for permissible training limits and safeguarding requirements to guarantee that young athletes are receiving proper care.

No matter how good the athlete is, it is dangerous to enter a nine-year-old in a tournament with adults, according to Koehler about Alegado.

“A growing child’s formative years are here, and it is likely to be harmful to place them in such an environment during these developmental years.”




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