China is taking a zero-tolerance stance and adopting new measures to ensure its athletes meet age requirements for international competition, said Cai Zhenhua, vice president of the State General Administration of Sport, according to this report in China Daily. Cai says that the new approach starts with the upcoming Youth Olympics August 14 to 26 in Singapore. Athletes have been asked to furnish six different forms of ID, listed by China Daily as: “birth certificates, ID cards, passports, domestic athlete registration cards and domestic and international authentication for competitions.”
The article adds that “athletes under 16 have also undergone bone-age checks through nuclear magnetic resonance.” China Daily not explain why athletes who claim to be over 16 aren’t required to take the tests.
But how much can these new regulations really do to solve China’s age-faking problem? The country’s national teams aren’t generally thought to be the source of the practice. It begins much earlier in athletes’ careers, when they are competing for their provinces. Leaders of those teams receive bonuses tied to performance in national and international competition. These bonuses can represent a major portion of their pay, so there is a strong incentive to shave a couple of years off (in sports like basketball and soccer, so players can enter youth competition for longer) or tack a couple on (in sports like diving and gymnastics, where young girls’ flexible bodies are an advantage).
No doubt China wants to avoid future embarrassment like it experienced when the International Olympic Committee stripped its 2000 Olympic women’s gymnastics team of a bronze medal after determining Dong Fangxiao had competed under a falsified age.
But I have a hard time believing that sports administration officials really care whether athletes are telling the truth about their age—they just want them to stop getting caught.
Dong was busted because of her own careless mistake. When she applied to be an official at the 2008 Olympics, she provided her real birth year, 1986, instead of the 1983 date that she had used to register for the Sydney Olympics. Others have been caught with a secondary form of ID that carries their real age. In 1999, Wang Zhizhi was picked up by the Dallas Mavericks despite his reported birth date making him too young to be drafted by an NBA team. The Mavericks had access to the center’s military ID, with correct age (two years older), thanks to a Beijing-–based Nike employee. Yi Jianlian, who plays for the NBA’s Washington Wizards, is widely thought to be two years older than his official birth year of 1987 indicates; two years ago, Chinese reporters dug up an old high school ID that listed his birth date as 1984. In all of these cases, a more careful scrubbing of history would have kept the athletes’ secrets buried deeper.
Whether the administration really wants to make sure that its teams are compliant, I can’t say for sure. But I am willing to bet that what lower-ranking and provincial sports officials will hear is this: “If you want to fake ages, you’d better start covering your tracks.”
Yi Jianlian high school ID image: Sohu.com
Tags: age faking, cheating, Dong Fangxiao, gymnastics, sports administration, Wang Zhizhi, Yi Jianlian