No fewer than 26 players currently plying their trade for the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) are officially listed as being the wrong age, the CBA admitted on Monday.
The under-pressure governing body was forced to investigate all 242 players under its wing after a report from Asia-basket.com last month claimed that 22 players listed their ages diferently for the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons. The CBA countered that it was only able to discover 14 such discrepancies among the players named.
In several cases, athletes shaved one or more years off their ages to make themselves eligible for - and the national side more competitive at - youth tournaments. Given the high sensitivity of this issue, the CBA has traditionally feigned ignorance, making this week's statement all the more explosive.
The body further unearthed 12 more players who it claims tried to falsely manipulate their ages, although it did not provide details. Regarding clubs, Jiangsu and Liaoning were also caught in the dragnet for having 'corrected' a number of players' DOBs this season.
In some cases, the players submitted their real age this season, but gave a false one last season," said CBA chief official Liu Xiaonong. "Some have even put down the same age for both seasons - neither one being their true age."
Instead of opting to name and shame, Liu said the CBA will adopt a forgiving stance on the matter given that there are, in most cases, complicated reasons behind the subterfuge that could serve to mitigate it.
"We are not going to expose the players' names and we are not going to chase them or their clubs on this," said Liu, who declined to elaborate on what mitigating circumstances were in play.
The CBA hopes the investigation will sound a warning to deter other would-be wrongdoers, he added.
"We have submitted all details of the case to FIBA and FIBA-Asia. We hope they will forgive these mistakes. We promise we will list the real age for the following competitions," he added.
FIBA, the sport's world governing body, has yet to issue a public response to the issue. Its decision will have considerable weight as the national youth team's results for the last six years now hang in the balance, depending on whether FIBA determines that the players' ages were deliberately falsified.
Age, and the reliability of people's personal information, has long been a controversial issue in China.
Even power forward Yi Jianlian, who plays for the New Jersey Nets in the National Basketball Association, has had to deal with passport problems.
His official Chinese passport has him listed as being born on Oct 27, 1987, although some claim this was intentionally falsified to make him eligible for junior competitions. In 2004, for example, he was listed as being born in 1984 in China's Four Nation Tournament. Authorities later described this as a "typo".
In Chinese soccer, the issue of forged ages has even been blamed for the country's role as that of a perennial underachiever given the strength of the men's side at U-17 and U-19 tournaments compared to its abysmal performance at the senior level.
Meanwhile, at the Beijing Games in August, doubts arose as to whether two Chinese women gymnasts, He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan, were 16 as claimed. Chinese officials and the sport's world governing body, FIG, ultimately determined that they were 16, the minimum age for women Olympic gymnasts to compete.
Source: China Daily/Agencies