Sport Weekly: Child athletes on the joys and the perils of competing | Sports News

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This week Al Jazeera covers issues for child athletes, Eritrea’s deserting footballers and scolded Pakistani cricketers.

Welcome to Al Jazeera’s Sport Weekly newsletter, which explores the intersection of sport with politics, culture and money. You can sign up here.

This week British Gymnastics introduced new rules limiting coaches from weighing athletes to tackle an issue “on the fringe of abuse”.

Gymnasts aged 10 or under cannot be weighed under the new regulations, while those between 10 to 18 can only be weighed with the consent of a parent or guardian. Those above the age of 18 can only be weighed with their consent.

British Gymnastics said the policy had been introduced to prevent practices around weighing that were causing distress and leading to issues such as eating disorders, anxiety and depression.

It follows the 2022 Whyte Review, which found “systemic” physical and emotional abuse in gymnastics.

Elite sports have also frequently been hit by reports of sexual abuse, doping, bullying and other misconduct in recent years – with young athletes the most vulnerable to abuse.

Meanwhile, children such as the nine-year-old skateboarder, Mazel Paris Alegado, continue to break records in major international events, which is reigniting debate around the risks, pressures and pitfalls that young competitors face in elite sport.

In 2022, at the age of 17, South African sprinter Viwe Jingqi became the world’s fastest under-18 female when she ran 100 metres in 11.24 seconds.

“Representing your country at such a young age is so amazing,” Jingqi told Al Jazeera.

But she said bullying and scrutiny over her appearance have left her feeling emotionally unstable, and that the pressures of competition can be brutal.

“Mentally, if you’re a kid and you lose it’s going to affect you a lot, so you need to be tough in every way.”

One parent spoke of the need to make sure his son had other interests outside sport to prevent burnout and support his wellbeing.

“If you are overly focused on one thing, which they are most of the time, it could have negative consequences,” he said.

Rob Koehler, the director general of Global Athlete, says athletes of Alegado’s age should never compete with adults, no matter how skilled they are, and that alternative competitions such as the Youth Olympic Games are safer spaces.

“These are formative years for a growing child and to place them in [an adult] environment during these development years is likely to cause harm.”

Read the full article here: ‘You need to be tough’: Child athletes make history, but at what cost?

Elsewhere this week:

  • A series of desertions by Eritrean players to escape mandatory military conscription has hit the country’s game.
  • Pakistan cricketers told to ‘prioritise country’ after poor World Cup.
  • Uganda make history by qualifying for first T20 World Cup at the expense of Zimbabwe and completing the 20-team lineup.
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