THE saying “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” is one of the most repeated in the world of sport.

It was more than 50 years ago that Sir Matt Busby uttered those now famous words and in fact, they still adorn the walls of Manchester United’s dressing room. 

For years, it was believed to be true. In some cases, it perhaps is.

But there is a prevailing sense that in fact, just because you are good enough on the sporting field, doesn’t mean you are equipped to deal with everything else that is thrown at an individual in an elite sporting career.

There has never been a clearer example of this than Kamila Valieva.

The Russian figure skater ended her Winter Olympic campaign this year standing on the ice in floods of tears, looking destroyed and without the individual gold medal so many had predicted she would win.

Having been caught up in a doping scandal – she returned a positive test at the end of last year but it wasn’t until mid-way through the Olympics that her failed test was reported – she became the story of the Games.

The scrutiny placed upon Valieva, who was only 15 at the time, was unbearable to watch, and would have been much harder to deal with.

She left Beijing not only without that individual medal, but perhaps most significantly, mentally and emotionally scarred.

This case has, at least in part, prompted the International Skating Union to increase the minimum age of eligibility for competition from 15 to 17.

There have been critics of this shift; surely, if an athlete is proficient enough to compete with those a decade older, as Valieva surely was, they should not have their career stifled by administrators?

There is a glimmer of truth in this. Every so often, a prodigy emerges who has not needed the typical length of time to develop like most of their peers.

But, as the Valieva case, and a number of others, show, elite sport is not purely about what happens on the field of play.

The emotional and psychological strain can be so much more testing.

Watching Valieva crumble in Beijing highlighted the reality that so much more than sporting ability is required to thrive at the elite level.

Potentially, someone a decade older than Valieva would also
have come undone under such pressure.

But the fact she was still a child meant she was worryingly unequipped to deal with the situation she was thrust into.

Only a select number of sports have to deal with the issue of children competing alongside adults, with figure skating and gymnastics the two most prominent.

In the late 1990s, gymnastics raised its minimum age to 16 and it is long overdue that figure skating does the same.

A minimum age limit will not mitigate against all challenges faced by young athletes; over-training remains a major issue whether or not there is an age limit as is abuse and exploitation.

But there is no need to catapult children into the cauldron of top-level sport. The potential damage far outweighs the risks.

And so for every athlete who loses out on a medal here and there as a result of delaying their international senior debut, there will be countless more who are given valuable protection by minimum age limits.


For all the millions, perhaps even billions, of dollars that are being pumped into the LIV Golf event, the first of which took place outside London last week, the organisers should perhaps have considered directing some of it towards media training for the players.

To a man, the players have been ill-equipped to deal with the  predictable questions that have been directed at them about their involvement in the Saudi-backed venture.

From Phil Mickelson to Dustin Johnson to Lee Westwood to Ian Poulter, the answers they have given at press conferences have been woeful. The queries about why they want to be involved with a country that has perpetrated so many human rights violations were not hard to see coming.

Yet the players have seemed astonishingly underprepared for such a line of questioning. From the suggestion they want to “grow the game of golf” to “helping Saudi Arabia get to where it wants to be”, the justification from the players of their involvement has been pathetic. 

And that is before we even get to Poulter’s insistence that he doesn’t have to answer questions about who he wouldn’t play for, as long as the money was right, if he doesn’t fancy it. 

If the Englishman was seen as cocky and pompous before, times that by 100 after last week.

Individuals have the right to do what they want in the world of sport, however morally distasteful it may seem to many.

But don’t expect your actions to go unchallenged.