Cheating on Age in Junior Tournaments

Recently, the tennisrecruiting.net website carried an accusation by an unknown blogger that the Chinese junior player who won the boys 12s at the Orange Bowl this month was actually 13 years of age and ineligible to play in the boys under 12 division which he won. This blogger cited numerous newspaper reports in both the Chinese press and international press which labeled the winner "13 years of age."  The criticism was that no action had been taken and that the passport proof of age required for each player at an ITF world junior ranking tournament in his case was a fake, something he claimed was frequently done by some countries. 

     Of course, Chineses athletes have been disqualified occasionally in the past from major international sporting competitions for violations.  Like the former East Germans, the Chinese do have a history.

      Cheating on ages of players at junior tournaments go back a long way.  It became so prevalent in the 1990s that the International Tennis Federation (ITF) passed a rule requiring passport proof from all juniors at the check in for each ITF tournament.  I can recall in the 1990s when a boy in North Carolina was entered in an age group he was too old for, won the tournament, and then had to forefit his title.  The USTA suspended him from junior competition for one year.  Turned out, his father had entered him in several tournaments falsifying his age.  The player knew nothing about this, not having been involved with the entry process (although one could argue he should have known he was playing in thwe wrong age group when he arrived at the tournament).  But when he applied to colleges, he was still heavily recruited and wound up with a substantial Division I scholarship anyway.

      Returning to the Chineses 12s winner, what are we to make of this, especially at the most prestigious junior tournament in the world, the Orange Bowl?  The anon. blogger went on to argue that making fake passports is quite normal in countries like China and passports cannot be trusted as proof of age.  But what other proof can the tournament officials require?  Then there is also the question of physical maturity.  If a teenager has matured early and looks to be far older than his passport age, how can we prove he and his coach are cheating?  I recall attending tournaments in Eastern Europe with my Tennis; Europe players and looking at players from the Eastern bloc who were presented as 15 or 16 but who looked to be at least in their 20s.  For example, the boy entered in the 14s who was growing a full facial beard.

      Followers of Little League baseball can relate to this same problem of proof of age and some players have been found lying and their teams disqualified because of it.

      The question is how can proof of age be enhanced and improved to assure these types of accusations can be judged immediately and accurately.  What if the player is actually the age on his passport -- these accusations then detract from his accomplishment in winning the tournament.  I suggest the USTA, ITF and other tennis governing bodies study this problem and make recommendations to step up to more accurate proofing of age.

      Do you have any suggestions?

Martin Vinokur, Tennis: Europe