A very recent column in TOI spoke of the Age verification exercise taken up by the Badminton Association of India. These tests were subsequently held at the All India Institute of Medical sciences at New Delhi on September 16.
This move was to remove age fraud cases from the national camps ahead of the Junior World and Asian Badminton meets. A set of shuttlers were asked to appear and clear the requirements of the test as stipulated by sports authority of India.
This news bit took me back in time to the year 2004-2005: when my son Akhil, a table tennis player representing Karnataka, was participating in National sub junior & junior championships in Chennai.
In the sub-junior singles event he entered the pre-quarter finals and eventually lost to a West-Bengal player: who looked taller, stronger and more mature for this age-category. Most people looked at this boy in suspicion wondering if he legally belonged to the sub-junior age category or whether he was cheating with his age.
It so happened that the TTFI authorities in co-operation with the TNTTA subjected number of players to a surprise age test at a local hospital. The results were not declared till late in the night.
Since it was Akhil’s last event of the tournament and also, since an epidemic was feared- post the tsunami that had ravaged many parts of south India including Chennai: we [including Akhil] hurriedly left to Bangalore the same night.
After having reached Bangalore the next morning I received a phone call from my team manager stating that the boy against whom Akhil lost was debarred from further participation due to over- age and Akhil was promoted and slated to play the quarter-finals at 10.00 am in the morning.
To his utter dismay, he had to concede a walk-over since we hardly had the time to reach Chennai before 10 am. There was gloom in our family and we were plunged in grief to see on the TV screen the announcement of- Akhil conceding a walk-over in the quarter finals. Experiences have a larger bearing on you and this personal experience of age fraud can never be erased from my memory.
Cheating in sports is age-old with drug abuse and age-fraud being the favourite methods adopted by the unethical community: to derive advantages of sporting success. In India the date-of- birth certificate and the school leaving certificate [S.S.L.C or 10th] are considered as the valid age proof for school children. It is a customary practice by this fraud group [present everywhere] to obtain manipulated/ fraudulent/ bogus birth certificates from the state owned Department Registration of Birth and deaths, to be submitted to the schools and in many instances the school records have been changed as per the wishes of the members of this group in collusion with the school authorities.
When the child comes out of the school after 10 Th class or 12 Th class his passing out certificate becomes the authentic legal age proof document which could be boldly presented on demand. Who can dare question this document?
The reason why people resort to this unethical practice is to give the child [player] an unfair advantage over the others in the same age group category. An additional year or two can mean a lot to the growing children physically.
A year or two more means that additional year/two of more practice to hone the skills plus the advantage of physical attributes like the gain in height, stamina and strength. This practice is genuinely unfair as it denies opportunity to the correct age player to compete fairly in the competition.
It is sheer injustice to the honest player [like Akhil] who sacrifices and compromises on a lot of things and works hard with big goals and dreams. When will this stop? In this context the stand taken by Badminton India is a welcome move. I hope many associations follow suit to curb the menace of this scourge group.
It is not just the case of India: the African countries and may be many others, have also been accused of this unfair practice. Nigeria the winners of the U-17 football world cup in three of the last five editions find themselves not qualified for the U-17 soccer WC to be staged in India in October 2017. Reason: A staggering 26 members of the U-17 team failed the age-test carried out ahead of the African Cup of Nations qualifier.
With rapid advancements in science & technology: research related tests to determine the age of an individual have been put forth and it is now up to the sports fraternity across the world to use these facilities and take up the matter earnestly to see injustice does not happen to the just and the ethical community.
My suggestion is to treat this issue in par with drug abuse and create laws suitably.