Africa is a country plagued by mosquitoes. Russia is infested with bears. Australia has just about everything nature intended to lead people to an early grave. And India has a plague which if not quite as deadly as the above mentioned scourges, is incredibly infuriating in its own right. The scourge of overage players.
They are everywhere. Massive giants among Liliputians. Picture a four foot tall kid merrily dribbling a basketball. Picture him putting his hopes and dreams in the shot he throws up. Ahead comes a bearded, potbellied shyster and blocks his shot. The kid bites his lips and holds back tears while the big buffalo hardy hars and gives him the Mutombo finger wag. Picture the same kid going and dribbling a football. Picture him attempting a shot at goal, once again with his hopes and dreams fueling his strike. Ahead comes erstwhile mentioned hirsute and rotund giant and elbows the kid to the ground. The kid whimpers and clutches his arm while the fatty bellows a deep throated laugh.
That is the scene in most of the playgrounds in our country. I’ve tried to paint a dramatic picture. In reality, the injustice is not as obvious everytime. Picture a kid taking to the fields and waving at his parents. “Have a good game son!” his dad calls after him.
Picture a guy on the opposing team taking to the fields and waving at his wife and kids “Have a good game dad!” his kid calls after him. “Go get em honey!” his wife yells. That’s what happens in India.
Again I’ve painted a dramatic picture. In reality, the overage players are not always so easy to spot. Arsenal players often feel that they are competing against overage players but that’s just their coach’s recruitment mentality. In school level competitions, some schools even allow passouts to play and no one really asks for age identification. Many district and state level competitions which are meant for kids under the age of 13/16/18 often feature players who are by no means a day younger than 20. Generating a bogus certificate is child’s play. Increase the age for the driver’s license, lower it for the school admission papers, make it just right for the wedding certificate. It’s a wonder people can keep track of how old they really are. How one gets away with it is easy to point out, identifications aren’t checked as strictly as they ought to be. But how does this happen with such blatant ease?
I’ve one possible theory for it. Recall the case of Fauja Singh. He became the only person to complete a full marathon at the age of one hundred. But his record was not recognized by Guinness. Their rationale was that Fauja Singh did not possess a valid birth certificate with which they could verify his age. Fauja was born in 1911. And back then we were ruled by the British. The ruling British government did not hand out birth certificates to one and all. And what with the ugly practice of killing the girl child being rampant, it took some time for India to properly establish the practice of registering births. Even then a good number of the population doesn’t go about getting the correct certificate. Fudging a few years here and there is a common practice.
Until we establish strict screening procedures to observe the age limit in our competitions, or unless the country as a whole realizes the sanctity of participating in sports in a clean way, it’s hard to see this practice of overage players playing in tournaments where they don’t belong ending. It’s sad that our country got so shaken up with the British rule that we ended up stuck in a rut when it comes to such basic things. It’s a far stretch to blame this on the British Raj, one can’t blame this on anything else besides the callous attitude of those who propagate this practice. Pointing a finger at the poor practice of maintaining age records is just an attempt to rationalize why this practice is enabled so much.
At the very least what we can do is, when you see someone who so obviously doesn’t belong in the age group he/she is competing in, boycott the competition. Pressurize them to pull out. Make the organizers accountable. Take action. Don’t just shake your head with a resigned attitude, unless there’s a gun pointed at it which also does happen in certain areas. In that case, hoof it. Little by little we are sure to move away from this practice if we just take action when we can.
Here are 9 other ideas to improve sports in India-