Bone Identity: Technologies Used To Curb Age Fraud

BCCI and other sports bodies use methods such as Tanner Whitehouse 3 and BoneXpert to determine a player’s age.

Gourav Mukhi became the youngest goal-scorer in ISL at 16 years old. He was, in fact, 21.

In 2022, young Indian badminton star Lakshya Sen came under investigation for age fraud, much to the shock of the sporting fraternity. An FIR was filed against the Arjuna Awardee and his family for misrepresenting the shuttler’s age in order to gain competitive advantage in the sport.

Although the Karnataka High Court soon ordered a stay on the proceedings of the case, giving Sen and his family relief, age fraud remains deeply-rooted in Indian sport.

In 2018, the Indian Super League (ISL) was hit by a similar controversy when Gourav Mukhi of Jamshedpur FC was pulled up by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for falsifying his age. He was banned for six months, and his penalty was lifted only upon submission of accurate documents.

At the Khelo India Youth Games, numerous instances of age fraud surfaced.

Age fraud and doping are often spoken of in the same breath. Both are taboo in sports. But the former is much easier to tamper with. And sadly, age fraud can never go away completely. For now, sports federations use a mix of scientific testing, and a good cop-bad cop approach through punishments and amnesty offers to try and keep the problem in check.

A few years ago, the then-BCCI president Sourav Ganguly had said, “The BCCI has been taking steps to counter age fraud and are now introducing even stricter

measures from the upcoming domestic season (2020-21). Those who do not voluntarily disclose their misdemeanour will be punished heavily and will be banned for two years.”

Similarly, HI (Hockey India) is known to enforce a ban of two seasons or years from all competitions.

To keep its own backyard clean, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) started making the TW3 (Tanner-Whitehouse) test mandatory for registration. Under a new law, players who have birth certificates issued after one year of being born must undergo a TW3 test.

As a result, Tejasvi Dabas, who became the U-12 national champion in 2018, withdrew from the age category after reports cropped up about her being overage. With a height of 5’4, she claimed to be an 11-year-old. Subsequently, she was also forced to withdraw from U-12 and U-14 categories. AITA secretary Hironmoy Chatterjee refuted claims of age fraud in Tejasvi’s case, simply calling her a ‘big girl’.

So, what exactly is the TW3 Test, and is it the go-to source to prevent age fraud in sports considering that BCCI, AIFF and SAI, among others, now use it for age verification?

The test is an assessment of skeletal maturity. It is one of those methods, along with Greulich-Pyle and FELS - which provides hand-wrist radiographs. It helps doctors and professionals determine the age of the bone. Since most people are right-handed, and the right hand has suffered strain, experts obtain records of the left hand.

TW3 is the best technology that sports currently has, but that does not necessarily make it foolproof.

There are children who grow fast and naturally look bigger and older for their age.

BCCI, which currently uses the TW3 test, announced the introduction of a new software to detect any fraudulent activities related to age. It will also help them cut costs by 80 per cent. The cricket board planned to use it alongside TW3 method. Called BoneXpert Software, the technology is said to give instant results and costs only Rs 288, as compared to TW3, which costs Rs 2400 per test. The BCCI plan to introduce it at state level first, on a trial basis, before taking it up nationally.

Age fraud being rampant not only brings national shame, but also compromises the integrity of sporting authorities at an international stage. Though efforts are being made to curb this menace, every once in a while, a slip causes a deserving candidate to lose their rightful spot. With constant efforts, however, the guilty can be brought to justice.