Several top badminton juniors were born at home, one opened his eyes to the world in an auto-rickshaw and another in a forest; some joined school before they started walking; others got birth certificates issued years after they were born; and a few have two dates of birth in Badminton Association of India (BAI) records.
These were among the abnormalities highlighted in a writ petition filed by 37 parents whose wards they say quit the sport after losing to over-age players.
Taking cognizance of the petition, the Karnataka High Court Friday directed the BAI to "consider the representation" and take a decision on it "in accordance with the law… within three weeks".
The BAI counsel assured the court that the representation of the parents will be dealt with.
BAI secretary Ajay Singhania said they will consult lawyers to prepare their response. "We have taken a lot of steps to deal with age-fraud. Already, if someone has a delayed birth certificate, we order them to conduct medical tests. We only rely on government hospitals, and in case of doubt, we'll send them to AIIMS. Who will doubt AIIMS?" he said.
The petition, backed by several documents like CBSE vigilance reports, birth certificates, official hospital letters, police inquiry statements and BAI records, says age fudging is rampant and alleged that among the cheats are those who have represented India in age-group events.
It points out that nine of the top 22 players in the under-17 boys category, four of the top 18 in the U-15 boys, seven of the top 16 in U-17 girls and five of 15 in the U-15 girls have delayed birth certificates, which mean documentation was done years after they were born. The petition states that the common contention for not getting birth certificates on time and the lack of credible hospital records was because such deliveries occurred at home.
The petitioners also drew the court's attention to a case of a budding shuttler with date of birth discrepancies, whose grandmother happens to be a former India track and field athlete. It was argued in court that the grandmother's leave, to help her daughter during the pregnancy, was two years before the date mentioned on the shuttler's birth certificate. Meanwhile, the mother, with a Masters in Physical Education, had also "delivered at home" and thus had no hospital records.
Another involves a Bangalore-based player who was accused of being over-age, a case that the local police probed. In his statement to the police, presented in court, the father said the child was born in an auto rickshaw while he was taking his wife to the hospital. The father stated: "When we reached the hospital, the doctors applied a yellow cream on her and then sent the mother and child home." There's also a shuttler who was born in a remote forest.
The petitioners told the court that they believed that unscrupulous parents and coaches gamed the system and procured false birth certificates either by changing schools or faking records when requesting a delayed birth certificate from another municipality.
In a case in Manipur, a boy born in 2002, competed with documents saying he was born in 2005. This despite a CBSE vigilance inquiry informing the Sports Authority of India (SAI) that the boy was admitted to the school in 2005 – the same year he claimed he was born. Manipulating dates of birth have resulted in absurd scenarios where players having joined Class 1 at age 2 or 3.
Most sports federation and even courts consider birth certificates as bonafide proof of age but over the years, age cheats have manipulated this document. Even medical tests – TanWhitter3 bone test – has its limitations as it shows a variance of six months to a year.
In one case, the petition said, the result from AIIMS and Ram Manohar Lohiya Institute of Medical Sciences had shown a difference of three years.
"Medical tests are expensive, and repeated exposure to X-rays can harm the body. The tests are not conclusive," a petitioner said, adding, there is a less expensive method to check the cheats.
With the court asking the BAI to consider the representation of the petitioners, one of the suggestions floated by the parents of aggrieved shuttlers is about players being asked to answer a detailed questionnaire about their birth and years growing up.
The questionnaire will quiz suspect players and their parents on details of their first school, proof of parents' leave from the workplace at the time of birth, medical records of the mother's pregnancy and vaccinations records among other things.
They have also demanded details of siblings because in one case, brothers both playing badminton were found to be born just 3 months apart from each other. The chess federation has implemented this system and has significant success in dealing with age fraud.
On the suggestions to get a questionnaire filled, Singhania said, "Kids don't know anything. Whatever is done is done by the parents only. We'll sit with our age-fraud committee and consider if the questionnaire is feasible."