Controversy exploded on the gymternet yesterday when the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) announced that WAG athletes born in the year 2005 are now eligible to compete at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.
The Games were originally scheduled to begin on July 24 and run till August 9, 2020 until global COVID-19 concerns forced the organizing committee to delay the Games by a year, creating a nightmare for the organizers and a plethora of implications: one of those being age specifications for gymnasts who become seniors in 2021.
On one hand, there are many who believe the WAG field at the 2021 Olympics should comprise exclusively of gymnasts born on or prior to December 31, 2004. Considering the Olympic Committee is still marketing these Games as ‘Tokyo 2020’ and not ‘Tokyo 2021’ they’re making it clear this is not a brand new Olympics, but a postponed one.
Because these are still the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, just pushed back a year, it would only be fair to preserve the same rules and standards as if the competition was still being held in 2020. Therefore granting WAG athletes who don’t yet have senior eligibility by December 31, 2004 the ability to compete would be a deviation from the prescribed rules and original competition field. The FIG even made it clear that the rules will remain the same for the Games, stating the 2017-2020 Code of Points will continue to be used until the end of 2021 in order to accommodate for the postponed Olympics. They also announced the judges will remain the same and those who were invited before, will remain invited. Because we’re adhering to the standards of the original 2020 Olympics, shouldn’t we also keep the athlete field consistent and only allow those to compete who were eligible at the time?
Speaking of those who were eligible to compete at the time, allowing athletes born in 2005 to compete at the Olympics creates a huge question pertaining to Olympic qualification, specifically for 2005 athletes from countries who haven’t qualified full teams. For gymnasts who wish to qualify to Tokyo as individuals, they are able to do so via the 2019 World Championships, the Apparatus World Cup series, the 2020 Continental Championships, and 2020 All-Around World Cup series. However, since most of these competitions have already been held or are in progress, it makes it nearly impossible for 2005 seniors to qualify for Tokyo. Let me use Julia Soares from Brazil as an example. Brazil did not qualify a full team to the Olympics since they finished out of the top nine teams who did not already qualify. Soares, a 2005 senior, won’t qualify to Tokyo with a team since Brazil didn’t qualify. She also won’t be able to qualify via the Apparatus World Cup series since there is only one more competition left (Doha World Cup) and she isn’t age eligible to compete in it- not to mention she would also need at least three World Cups to rack up enough points for Olympic qualification. The Continental Championships (Pan-American Championships in this instance) also aren’t possible for Soares. Although they’ve been postponed, it’s possible they may still happen later this year, still making her ineligible to compete and qualify an individual spot.
On the other hand, giving 2005 seniors eligibility to compete at the 2021 Olympic Games gives opportunities to gymnasts who are capable of making the Olympics, but weren’t able due to their age. This ensures the Olympics feature the best of the best which is basically what the Olympics are, right? Talented 2005 seniors like Konnor McClain and Viktoria Listunova have high chances of making their country’s Olympic team and could potentially be medal threats.
The FIG technical regulations state that athletes must be 16 in order to compete at major international meets like the World Championships and Olympic Games. Excluding age eligible athletes from competing would contradict their own rules. Blythe Lawrence also brought up an interesting point mentioning athletes born in 2005 could file lawsuits for being barred from the competition, even though they are age eligible to compete.
These rules also apply to the men, meaning MAG athletes born in or prior to 2003 are now age eligible for the Olympics. However because most MAG athletes don’t hit their peak until they’re in their mid-twenties, the impact upon the competition is much lower for the men than the women who usually have a higher proportion of younger athletes (however the average age for WAG athletes has steadily risen over the past several years). It’s also not impossible for a talented 18 year old MAG athlete to make a major team (take Kenzo Shirai at 2013 Worlds for example who was only 17 at the time) therefore it still creates potential inconsistency in the field as well as unequal Olympic qualification opportunities for younger athletes.
This is a tough call for the FIG- no matter what decision they make there will be controversy. There are legitimate arguments for both sides of the issue, but the one thing we all can agree on: these Olympics will be like nothing we’ve ever had before.