Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Age is no Barrier

Imagine you are a junior. Now imagine you were playing in an age category tournament – the under 13’s for example – and your first round opponent walked on court sporting a three-day growth, was 100 pounds heavier than you, and had a 17 year old girlfriend watching outside. You’d think, “geez, looks a little old to be 12”, wouldn’t you?

Now imagine that the above scenario is not a rarity, but is in fact the norm. Welcome to Pakistani junior squash.

As far-fetched as it sounds, it has become so routine that (reportedly) up 60% of juniors competing in underage events (under 11, 13, 15, 17 and 19) are in fact overage. In one draw of a recent under 19 event it was found that only 4 of the 22 entrants were in fact less than 19 years old.

From what I can gather, Pakistan does not mandate parents to register their newborns. Understandably so when you consider their population, a large number of which live in rural areas, corrupt officials, which would lead to inefficient recording systems and inaccuracies.

One can only presume that if a junior squash player enters a tournament and must provide their age and don’t have a legitimate birth certificate, they are “guessing”. Or lying. And, you may think, if the junior wasn’t sure exactly how old they were, they could probably estimate within a year or two. So if a 15 year old squeezes into the under 15 category, it may be an honest mistake. But that isn’t what’s happening either.

Subtlety, it appears, doesn’t exist in Pakistan. If you are going to lie, may as well go all the way, no? Reports had it that the overage players in the above mentioned example were so visibly older, it was easily detectable. At one event, a player said to be 17 years old was competing in the under 11 draw. Are you kidding me? Unless the lad had some type of growth disease, how could he possibly stand there and claim to be 10? His opponent did complain to the officials, who subsequently ignored him and allowed the 17 year old to play anyway. (I don’t know who won, but I think I can guess.)

No doubt through the sheer weight of complaints, and that Pakistan has become a laughing stock at the international level, the PSF (Pakistan Squash Federation) has put together a committee to start medically examining the players to determine their correct age. How they test them is unclear, but I did read one report that they were using the “armpit” method. I can’t figure out what that is, but it sounds awfully dodgy and old-fashioned to me. (Maybe a reader could explain it to us?)

However, the PSF can implement all the committees and rules it likes. The difficult part is getting all the provincial associations to abide by them. Which it seems they aren’t, and won’t. Only one province is actually conducting tests, but even that looks crooked since the PSF isn’t involved in these tests and won’t - or can’t – recognize them.

Hamza Bokhari (right). This
photo was taken in 2009 when
he won an U/17 event in Asia.
He is listed as being born on
Dec. 31, 1993 which would
have made him 15 at the time.

Not that the PSF can stand there and claim to be all righteous either. They are responsible for sending the Pakistan U-19 Team to the World Junior Championships in July. It is claimed that all four players of that team are overage too. Including Hamza Bokhari. Hamza was considered to be too old for the under 19’s three years ago, but somehow, has turned back the clock and finds himself once again eligible. And looking through his player profile on-line he turned pro in 2006 – which would have made him 12 years old the time. I don’t care how good he was at aged 12, there is no way he was a pro. In fact, after searching through a handful of Pakistan players on-line, I found six of them that all turned pro between the ages of 12 and 15. Remarkable. That’s some junior program they must have.

Naturally, this is all speculation. Innocent until proven guilty, right? It’s impossible to prove anything without authentic birth certificates. And is there even a medical exam that exists that can accurately determine exactly how old a person is? (I am presuming the ‘armpit’ method isn’t it.) These rumors about overage players are nothing new. In fact, I clearly remember it was a topic of discussion when I was a junior over 20 years ago. Nothing was done about it then, and, it appears, nothing seriously is being done about it now.

So what to do? There is really nothing the WSF (World Squash Federation) can do to stop Pakistan in how they conduct their associations. If they want to cheat (yes, I said ‘cheat’), then so be it. Unless the WSF can come up with a method that categorically proves age, they can’t ban them from competing either and simply have to take their word for it. Until that time, I guess the junior squash world will have to put up with being lied to, know that they are being lied to, put on a smiley face and take it.

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