Drastic steps are necessary to wipe out overage menace

If further proof was needed that the overage menace continues to dog Indian sports then Kollam, where the junior National athletics championship was held, presented one.

Strange that this should be so in an era when computer technology has made it easier to keep a tab on an athlete, right from the time he or she breaks into the national scene.

To be sure, the Amateur Atheltics Federation of India reflected the level of its concern by seeking to nip the problem in the bud by its prompt action in Kollam.

But the problem does not appear to be that simple.

Rather, from the way athletes in Kollam dared to keep away from the medical board and thereby exposed themselves to sanctions, there appears to be a nexus between them and the officials of the State Association in perpetuating this crime.

Whether it is doping or the overage menace, athletics seems to be a fertile area for the purveyors of such mischief.

If it was in Shimoga early this year then two years ago it was in Bangalore that age-related problems surfaced.

While in Kollam, the AAFI stepped in to debar those who refused to subject themselves to a medical test, and suspend a few others apart from publicly warning a few more, the issue calls for far more stringent measures to strike at the roots.

The AAFI, if it is sincere in its endeavour, would do well to also pull up those State units from where these tainted athletes come.

FIFA, the world football body, for instance makes no bones in taking direct action when an issue like this threatens to snowball into a controversy.

Suspending a national association on an age-related issue is not new in world football. FIFA, in fact, viewed such an offence so seriously that in the recent Under-17 World Cup held in Finland a caveat was issued to have an MRI test taken of suspected overaged players notwithstanding the costs.

Observers believe that this directive and the way Asian countries slipped out of the competition with none qualifying for the quarterfinal phase, had a certain connection. The inference was clear.

Some drastic steps are necessary to wipe out this overage evil.

While Kollam was a good start, the AAFI can go one step further by making it mandatory for all medal winners to undergo medical examination and even possibly an MRI test.

The costs will be high but the Federation should, where the medical board is definite about an athlete's overage, slap the expenses of the tests on the State Association to which the athlete belongs.

The perpetrators of the crime as well as the State associations should be taken to task.

The Federation can also in the long run benefit by creating a computer database on all athletes in the country from their first appearance in a national.

Steps can also be taken to ratify the age of an athlete at his or her national debut.

The benefit of the last mentioned suggestion needs to be underscored in the light of the variations in the way age is recorded in various parts of India.

While the effort here is not to hold a brief for those who violate age norms, the fact remains that not all may be cheats in the true sense but can be victims of circumstances.

In some parts of the country, for instance, age is decided more by the rule of the thumb than on the basic facts of birth time and date. Ignorance plays a big role here; sometimes so do lack of facilities — both of which seem plausible in the background of the country's vast rural underdevelopment.

A thorough medical examination then is the only way out rather than blind acceptance of the age proof certificate.

Often State and National Associations refrain from questioning the sanctity of age certificates for the fear of getting into a legal tangle.

But that is trying to run away from the problem. A sincere approach must involve a process where transparency is there and justice is assured.