The decision by the International Skating Union congress comes months after a drugs scandal involving then-15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva.

Valieva failed a pre-Games drugs test but was allowed to compete and then broke down after falling multiple times during her performance.
Valieva failed a pre-Games drugs test but was allowed to compete and then broke down after falling multiple times during her performance. (AP)

Ice skaters will have to be at least 17 to take part in senior competitions after the governing body voted to raise the minimum age from 15.

Tuesday's decision by the International Skating Union congress in Phuket, Thailand, came months after a Beijing Winter Olympics drugs scandal involving then 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva.

"It's a very historic decision," ISU president Jan Dijkema said on after 100 countries voted to support the measure, with only 16 opposed.

Valieva failed a pre-Games drugs test but was allowed to compete and then broke down after falling multiple times during her performance.

She finished outside the medals with questions swirling about the influence of her entourage following a tense post-routine encounter with her coach.

The ISU had insisted that raising the age limit was on its agenda well before the Valieva case and acknowledged it had a duty of care to elite adolescent athletes.

The change will be brought in gradually in coming years.

READ MORE: Russian Olympic skater practises in shadow of doping test controversy

'Children first'

The skating body's medical advice backed raising the age limit to 17 arguing it would benefit young skaters physically and mentally, and help extend their careers.

"I feel as administrators of the sport of skating it is your moral obligation and duty to provide these young skaters with the opportunity and time to develop ... the skills they require in order to be successful at the senior level," Dr Jane Moran from the body's medical commission said.

"They have the right to develop themselves as people during their adolescent age... They don't need us to be forcing them to compete."

A medical report said the change would allow junior athletes time to reach skeletal maturity.

"The concern is that during a period of known skeletal vulnerability, the adolescent athlete may be exposed to excessive training and competition loads associated with high-level competition, which places the athlete at greater risk of injury," the medical report said.

It also warned that some elite adolescent athletes could experience a puberty delay for an average of two years as a result of the physical demands of training and inadequate energy intake.

It noted some were at greater risk of developing eating disorders.

The athletes' commission surveyed close to 1,000 athletes and coaches and 86 percent were in favour of lifting the age limit.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies