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By Rishika Mendiratta (Founding and Managing Editor at KhelAdhikar)
The age-old saying, “Once the game is over, the king and the pawn game go back in the same box”, highlights the importance of the ephemeral life of any sport and the players who are a part of it. Thus the eternal impact of the performance of any player is etched through his level and manner of performance. The talent coupled with the integrity of any sportsperson exemplifies the values that every endeavour in life stands for i.e. winning by Fair Play. Unfortunately, this ideal of Fair Play has been tarnished in the Indian sports because of the prevalent age fraud controversies. As this malaise was not nipped in the bud, it has assumed unreasonable proportions. This is visibly persistent at the district and state sports events, as the level of checks and balances at these levels suffers from various loopholes. The standard form of documentation which exists for verification is the birth certificate which is easily fudged and fabricated by the players and authorities alike. The legislative steps were taken by the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs (MYAS), such as the enactment of The National Code Against Age Fraud in Sports, is a mere paper tiger because of poor implementation measures by the respective sports bodies. For example the All India Tennis Federation in 2009 formulated guidelines for issuing identity cards and maintaining a database of all the athletes as well conducting random enquiries, all of which are yet to see the light of the day. Moreover, the Sports Integrity Unit (SIU) formed by CBI after the IPL spot-fixing scandal has been lackadaisical in its action to combat this evil. A mere reprimand was given to 4 female tennis players for masquerading their age in 2015. The recent controversy of November 2016, of age fraud involving Badminton Players, received a similarly tepid response, wherein no stringent action was taken to deter the prospective offenders. The ironic part is the prevalence of such malpractices even after Badminton Association of India (BAI) had directed the district and state associations to consider separate verification procedures before the giving of BAI IDs in 2015. However, one has to cut some slack before criticising the Sports Integrity Unit (SIU) because as per Article 1.24 of the CBI Constitution, the SIU is formed as a support body to assist the state bodies in the investigation of the alleged offences. Thus sports being a state subject under Entry 33 of List 3 of the Constitution, the SIU could not have proceeded suo moto with respect to the framing of charges against the athletes. Thus this should be a wakeup call for the authorities to expand the ambit of powers of the SIU so as to enable them to take prompt and concrete steps against any complaint of age fraud. A scientific technique of age verification has proven to be the much awaited silver lining to combat this menace. The Tanner Whitehouse Test 3 (TW3), is an instrumental method to differentiate the age of players depending on the maturity of bone density during the age of 15-17 years. This has been adopted by the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI). The only shortcoming of this method is its inability to check the problem of age manipulation at a higher age.
Nevertheless, many individual sports bodies such as Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) have adopted certain appreciable standards measures to curb this menace. The KSCA has made it mandatory for the players to ensure that the registration of their birth certificates is within two years of their birth. Besides the measures by BCCI such as allowing the players, to play the U-19 World Cup once, with a ceiling of playing only for two years in that category are steps which can be emulated by other National Sports Federations (NSFs). Again the guidelines of All India Chess Federation are laudable. Their measures of accepting birth certificates which are registered within one year of their birth do reduce to an extent, the age manipulation problems. A probable solution is having a central database wherein as soon as a player plays a tournament related to a National Sports Federation, (NSF), he/she is registered and all the documents pertaining to their age verification are recorded so that it acts as a future reference to prevent any age malfeasance.
Age fraud in sports is detrimental in the long run as it affects the country’s performance at the international level as the deserving athletes are deprived of their fair opportunity to participate in various events. The example of age fudging by the cricketers from Orissa, the problem of age verification of the swimmers from Maharashtra as only one hospital was designated for verifying the age of all the athletes in the state are sufficient enough to explain that the persistence of this problem is because of moral as well administrative lacunae in the system. As everyone has been an accomplice in the spread of this problem either as a mute spectator or an active participant, the onus is again on everyone to ensure that this problem is curbed so that sports continues to be an example of Fair Play. In a nutshell, the adoption of scientific techniques, the diligent maintenance of records in the central database, the conscientious checking of documentary proofs, the strict implementation of the National Code Against Age Fraud, along with the expansion of the powers of the SIU is the way out of the mess of age fraud in Indian Sports. Besides, the players, athletes, parents and coaches have to take a moral responsibility in this endeavour of the fight against Age Fraud. In the end, in sports as it is in life, it is not about winning but about winning fairly as sports does not build character, it reveals it. Thus if India has to qualitatively better its performance at the international level, it has to ensure that talented athletes are not being deprived of deserving opportunities and eradication of Age Fraud is a major step in achieving this objective.
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- Medical Evaluation of the age of Chess Players
- Government planning new software to stop age fraud in sports
- The Age Old Question- Age frauds hurt the present & the future of Indian Basketball