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Age Faking a Widespread Practice in Chinese Sports

March 18, 2009 07:33 AM
by Denis Cummings
A government test found that a fifth of Chinese youth athletes were lying about their age, showing just how pervasive faking one’s age is in Chinese athletics.

3,000 Athletes Found Lying About Their Age

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Bone tests administered by the Sports Bureau of Guangdong Province to 15,000 Chinese youth athletes found that 3,000 of them had lied about their age. About 2,000 of the athletes were found to be too old to compete in youth competitions, while 1,000 were competing to lower age divisions, according to Reuters.

The tests were performed in preparation for the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou; Ye Xiquan, deputy sports bureau chief, told Guangzhou Daily, “We want to make sure fakers have no advantage.”
The tests are part of a larger crackdown by the government on age falsification in Chinese athletics, which is a widespread problem due in most part to the intense competition between provinces for funding and between young athletes for national recognition.

“Funding of sport at provincial level is dependent on success,” explains the BBC, adding, “local officials are under huge pressure to win, which makes them more likely to bend the rules. It is no surprise some athletes and their families, many of whom see sport as a way out of hardship, have joined in the lie as the system only rewards the very best, our correspondent says.”

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There have been many notable cases of Chinese athletes proven or suspected to be lying about their age. Last November, the Chinese Basketball Association ordered background checks on the league’s 242 players, finding that 36 had lied about their age. New Jersey Nets center Yi Jianlian, the sixth overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft, was also reported by the Chinese media to be three years older than he claimed, but Yi has denied the allegation.

“If someone digs, age-scandal stories of this kind can be found in almost every soon-to-be-nationalised football clubs in the country,” says the China Sports Review, which points out that the Chinese youth teams have had far more international success than the senior team, suggesting that they are fielding overage players.

The most famous case of suspected age faking occurred during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where the Chinese women’s gymnastics team won gold. There were many allegations that three of the gymnasts were under 16, the minimum age to compete in Olympic gymnastics, a sport where young teens often have an advantage over older gymnasts. The International Gymnastics Federation later cleared the team of wrongdoing, but suspicions remain.

Related Topic: Age falsification in the Dominican Republic

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