The 2018 Winter Olympics gained much attention even before the games kicked off earlier this month on Feb. 9 in South Korea. The buzz around whether or not Russian athletes would be able to participate was where most of the Olympics spotlight shone for over a year. A final ruling by the International Olympic Committee in December 2017 banned the nation from this year’s games, but Russian athletes that can prove they are “clean” have been allowed to participate under the title “Olympic Athletes of Russia.”
It was announced on Feb. 20, however, that Russian curler Alexander Krushelnitsky failed a drug test. Regardless of the regulations that were implemented prior to the start of the 17-day event in Pyeongchang, athletes still find a way to disregard them.
In addition to the doping scandal, other question marks surround the future of the Olympics as debates arise regarding the potential mortality of the biggest event for the world’s best athletes.
The discussion of Olympic controversies and unfair advantages extends to topics such as whether natural advantages for athletes like height, body type and large amounts of testosterone should be regulated, or if they make the Games unfair.
Olympic Women’s bobsledder in 2014, Jazmine Fenlator, told The Setonian via email that she does not believe natural physical advantages are unfair to compete with as long as research backs the stipulations of fair play.
“I have competed with and against women of all different shapes and sizes, weights, muscle tone, seeing abilities, etc.” Fenlator wrote. “This is what makes it possible for different types of people to be able to do the same sport.”
Sophomore elementary and special education major Madeline Pfaff agreed with the sentiment, reiterating an idea likely shared by many, in that as long as the advantage is natural, it should not be given second thought.
“As long as it’s natural, it’s fair game,” Pfaff said.
Pfaff compared Olympic athletes’ natural advantages to people being gifted in pursuing a particular area of study. She noted how education is mental and sports are physical, but some people were just born with either of these advantages and it is fair to compete.
With issues of competitive imbalance among multiple sports, the question of whether professional athletes should compete in the Olympics is another relevant topic that comes up in almost any Olympic Games.
In a sport like tennis, competition outside of the Olympics is governed by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), which hosts tournaments throughout the world. Tennis players participating in the Games are not only representing their own nation in these events, but in a way their league as well. If professional tennis players like Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic compete in the Olympics along with all of the other ATP players, then are the Olympics not just serving as an elevated stage of the ATP? With more well-known athletes in tennis in that case, is it not unfair when sports like equestrian and archery do not have such stars?
A professional athlete is one who gets “a salary income from an organizing group (not to include endorsements and sponsorships), but rather payment to actually perform and do their sport as a job,” Fenlator wrote.
Fenlator stated that she believed professional leagues should be eligible to compete in the Olympics, but that there should be a range of requirements for them.
“[A minimum] standard of their national teams’ practices and games or races in order to be eligible for the Olympic Team,” Fenlator wrote. “[Restricting the number of professional athletes on the] roster or field at any given time.”
Another heavily debated topic dealing with the Olympics is whether or not the age minimum should be raised. This differs based on the sport, but many sports accept athletes in their teens.
“I think that each international federation for a specific sport should regulate the minimum age requirement for participation in the Olympics, but the final approval would be by the IOC,” Fenlator wrote.
Pfaff thinks the minimum age for sports should be lowered.
“Age should not restrict when you should be allowed,” Pfaff said. “If you’re in your prime and you’re at the top of your game, you should be allowed to compete.”
Pfaff cited Chloe Kim, who fell short of the cutoff for the minimum age at the 2014 Winter Games.
For young athletes – like Kim in 2014 – who have the talent to participate in the Games but do not meet the requirements, it is difficult to hold them back. That being said, at such a young age, people are left to wonder whether or not they are being pressured to train, or whether they really want to be involved in such a competitive lifestyle so early.
If someone is naturally gifted, it is something that should be shared with the world regardless of his or her age. If someone has the talent, then he or she should be able to compete. However, if an athlete is training at an Olympic age at the age of 14 years old, it seems as if the children are forgoing their childhood.
NBC Sports reported that there are five athletes competing in this year’s Games who are 15 years old.
Almost as certain as there will be Olympics every two years, there will be controversies. The Russian doping scandal is not going anywhere after the latest violation by Krushelnitsky, but the resolution on issues like participation of professional athletes are issues that can be decided by Olympic governors’, and it is time for them to agree on a solution.
Correction: Pfaff was originally misquoted by the name of Stacie Elfo. That quote has been fixed.
Andrea Keppler is a communication major and math minor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @keppler_andrea.