The Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) has been forced to defend their decision to withdraw pace sensation Nasim Shah from their under-19 squad for the upcoming World Cup after it was widely alleged the decision was made because the player was over-aged.
The PCB in a statement said that the decision was actually made at the request of the senior team management. Misbah-ul-Haq and Waqar Younis, who handle the senior side, are said to have wanted the 16-year-old to remain and train with the senior squad for upcoming assignments.
Nasim made his debut for senior side in November and has already played three Tests with eight wickets to his name.
Questions over Nasim’s age were raised after a tweet from Pakistani journalist Saj Sadiq from December 2018 went viral on the social media. The tweet read:
“Highly rated 17-year-old pace bowler Nasim Shah who was signed by Quetta Gladiators for the Pakistan Super League has suffered a back injury. He is back in training and hopes to be fit for PSL4 #Cricket #PSL4.”
The controversy comes in the wake of another similar case in cricket. Last week, India’s emerging batting sensation Manjot Kalra was handed a one-year suspension by the Delhi and District Cricket Association over suspected age fraud during his U-16 and U-19 days.
Kalra was India’s hero in the U-19 World Cup final of 2019, scoring an unbeaten century in India’s eight-wicket victory over Australia.
India is unlikely to be stripped of the title as the International Cricket Council (ICC) rules for that to be done states that a team can be disqualified only if more than one member was proven guilty. However, the ICC do have other provisions that may allow them to take some form of action, either against the player or the team.
In most cases the usage of over aged athletes in age-group competitions are systematically carried out to give a team the advantage over their rivals. Whether it is cricket, football, hockey or athletics older players do enjoy both physical and mental advantage over their younger rivals.
Physical and neurological maturation impacting on motor skills plays a major part to disadvantage the younger player.
Tests to accurately prove the age of athletes are also not 100% fail-safe and if the organisation concerned are also onboard in faking their identification, it works in their favour.
In 1988, Mexico were handed a two year ban from all international competitions after it was found that their national football federation had knowingly included at least four players in their Under-20 squad for the World Cup qualifying tournament.
FIFA have used the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to catch offenders, although the method is not completely foolproof. Last September, half of the Benin Under-17 squad failed the test and the team expelled from the African Cup of Nations qualifiers. On their return to Benin, they were charged in court which saw ten players and an official sentenced to a month prison sentence for cheating and fraud charges.
There have been numerous allegations of age fraud in other sports as well. Another notable incident was the widespread allegations of Pakistan using overage players in their 2016 triumph at the World Junior Team Squash Championships. While the World Squash did start an investigation into the matter, it did not yield any results as the players concerned were not entered by Pakistan for any future junior championships.
Then there was the 1992 Little League World Series scandal that saw the Filipino team from Zamboanga City being stripped of the title. This was after Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Al Mendoza exposed the fact that not only many of the players were overaged, but also that some of the players used the identity of different players.
Then, at least initially, it was the reporter, who was ostracized for being disloyal instead of the players and official concerned for their misdemeanor.
Chinese NBA player Yi Jian Lian, was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2017 with much fanfare, but his actual age created a controversy. He claimed to be 21 when he was drafted but media reports emerged with his high school identity card, showing he was actually three years older.
The reporter, who broke the story was castigated online, many of whom denounced the reporter for seeking to stir up trouble.
Issues of fielding over-age players are not confined only at the elite level. Almost ten players in South Africa’s Kwazulu-Natal school rugby tournament, two years ago were found to be over-aged.
But the story of 30-year-old Jonathan Nicola, who masqueraded as a 17-year-old high school student and played basketball for Catholic Central High School in Windsor, Canada, takes the cake when it comes to age fraud.
One of the reasons why age fraud is still prevalent in many countries is poverty and limited chances to break out of it. Through sports, they believe they have an ideal opportunity to make the change. But the desire to win at all costs is also a major cause.
Coaches, parents, clubs, schools and sport’s controlling bodies, all contribute to the problem by either encouraging it or turning a blind eye.
It is not helped, either, when fans go after the whistle-blowers instead of the perpetrators.
Age fraud is no different from doping and cannot be justified for any reason. The basic tenet of sports is about fairness and fair competition. Breaking it is unethical and promotes an unjust playing field.
Integrity in sports needs to start at an early age and it cannot work without the concerted efforts from everyone, starting from the parents themselves.