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Why Age Cheat Is Deeper Than Falsification Of One’s Identity

The challenge of athletes playing their actual age, as far as sports is concerned in this part of the world, is a pandemic that has no end in sight.

An average 18-year-old athlete in Nigeria is believed to have reduced a minimum of four years from his actual age and a lot of people even still consider this set of athletes ‘young’ and modest.

Footballers who are closing up on their forties often play in U-20 tournaments after miraculously convincing officials that they are within the age bracket. And this is mostly the case with a number of other sports.

Tennis, like other sports, is not exempted from this cancer that has eaten deep into sportsmen and women. In fact, it may seem more aggressive in tennis as players start competing early enough and play age grade competitions.

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There have been vivid situations where players are asked to claim a certain age during screening ahead of tournaments. And while the innocent kids sometimes forget to do as told, they are often forced to change their ages when their parents, coaches or guardians register the false age.

Nigeria Tennis Live once interviewed a young player who looked very young but is actually advanced in age. When asked what his age was, he replied: “Shey my real age or the age I’m using for tennis?”

Our correspondent who was bewildered with the question, asked how he managed to have two ages at that early stage.

Coaches and Players

The youngster replied: “That’s what my coach told me. He said I should call my tennis age when they ask me for my age so that I can play junior tournaments”.

When another innocent tennis beginner spoke with Nigeria Tennis Live, and was asked for his age, he mentioned his real age. But his coach, who was listening nearby, quickly corrected the youngster and said: “I’ve asked you to stop telling people that age”.

He continued: “Always tell people that you’re the age I told you, because you still need to go far in tennis and you’re only just getting started”.

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Not quite long ago, this website published the article about a national player, and our correspondent received a lot of calls, calling for the story to be adjusted because the player’s age, as stated in the report, did not tally with the player’s real age.

“How can you tell me that you’ve published what you saw on the ITF website? Do you want to tell me that you cannot look at the player and know that the wrong age was already doctored before it was put on the ITF website?” a very angry tennis stakeholder told our correspondent.

It is so bad that parents, coaches of children who are deemed overage fight some of the people trying to correct these anomalies.

LKJ Tennis Club

“Wetin consain you? That other coach no bring overage players too? If another person do am, wetin stop me from using overage player?” an obviously displeased coach one of the officials trying to curb age cheat at the 2023 National Youth Games in Asaba, Delta State.

The most immediate implication of age cheat for people is the brevity of such players’ careers as many examples have shown over the years. However, there are implications that far supercede not having longevity in the sport.

If Nigerians are crying about youths embracing cyber crime and internet fraud or other vices, these parents and guardians who teach their wards and children to cheat with their ages early in life cannot be said to not have a hand in it.

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Some parents even have two birth certificates for their children; one for the school and the other for their sport. Little wonder they try unsuccessfully to imbibe the right values in their children.

Parents and coaches who teach their young children and players to tell lies will most likely find it difficult to checkmate the players’ attitude or help them build good characters.

While these acts by the parents, coaches and guardians are often considered inconsequential and ‘in the best interests’ of the child, the youngsters are certainly soaking in these values which in turn inform their disposition to life as they grow.

National Players in Abuja

The desperation to win at all costs, a reflection of our ill-fated system, ends up causing an even deeper cut in the value system of these players who end up being very important components of the porous society – and the cycle continues.

It is not the first time this issue of age cheat has been extensively discussed, but it still continues to rear its ugly head.

If there must be any form of sanity, no matter how little, in our sport, parents and coaches have a huge role to play in making this work.

As things stand, everybody seems innocent, however, those who have reduced the ages of their players are not without conscience, they will always remember the legacy they are leaving for their children and players.

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