A major overage scandal has come to light where about 240 athletes were found to have manipulated their age to compete in last year’s edition of the National Inter-district Junior Athletics meet in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh. One of the premier Athletics Federation of India (AFI) events, the aim of the tournament is to promote track & field activity at the grassroots by conducting the competition in 12-14 and 15-16 age-group category in boys and girls section.
The AFI said the scandal was unearthed because the federation “had initiated the biometric card system for athletes”. AFI president, Adille Sumariwalla, said, “Overage is one of the issues eroding talent at the grassroots. Doping and overtraining are the other two problems stopping juniors from graduating to the senior level.”
Of the 240 athletes found overage, 51 were debarred when they reported at the venue. “Another 189 didn’t report at the medical centre for further screening,” said Sumariwalla.
Earlier this year, the AFI had conducted workshops in Kerala and Rajasthan on overage and doping, but due to the outbreak of coronavirus, the federation is now conducting online sessions. “The emphasis is on three issues—doping, overage and overtraining. Many promising juniors aren’t able to make an impression at the senior level because of wrong training. Doping and overage are the other two issues at the grassroots. That’s why we are making it mandatory to have dope tests at district-level meets.
According to Sumariwalla, transparency in the functioning of the state associations is also on the agenda. “During webinar sessions with states and district units, the emphasis is on transparency. We have asked district units to register themselves and open an account. Those districts who do not follow the criteria will be debarred.”
Two years ago, Uttarakhand State Athletics fielded “fake district teams” in inter-district competition. A state-level coach said that of the 13 districts in the region, there are only 3-4 which are active, but the state body sent entries for all districts.
Sumariwalla says sending “dummy teams” could be one the reasons why so many overage athletes are being caught. “Uttarakhand isn’t alone; many units in states like Maharashtra, among others, are sending dummy teams. This is why we have made it mandatory for observers to be present at all district competitions.”