Saturday, August 20, 2016

World Juniors: Age Of Participants In Question Once Again

In 2012 when I was finishing my Masters in Coaching at the University of Victoria I wrote a paper titled 'Relative Age Effects in International Junior Squash Competitions.' The course was Current Issues In Coaching Studies and this was the only topic that was really garnering any media in the squash world around that time. Now I see that Pakistan is again in question about some of their athletes age at the recent World Juniors. I don't know the background of the current situation so I will not remark on this, but I felt it was worth sharing my paper from 2012 about a similar situation. If you're interested in this subject please feel free to have a read and let me know what you think.

I do know that there are always going to be some athletes that will do whatever it takes to succeed. We see doping in professional sports even still! When big money and fame is on the line there will always be some willing to take the risk. And we all know what happened to the Russian track team recently. If someone is lying about their age it is cheating and an unfair advantage (I explain how and why in my paper). If someone is willing to do this will they also not be more likely to dope? Is lying about your age worse than doping or just as bad? Regardless if the reports this time around are true or not something has to be done to rectify this issue. It's not fair to the actual juniors if someone lied about their age and if nobody has than it simply tarnishes Pakisan's title and their national squash federation.

We all want to see a fair competition and we all want to be proud of the accomplishments of the top juniors in the world, regardless of their nationality. Anyways, here's my paper. Enjoy!

Relative Age Effects in International Junior Squash Competitions
EPHE 579, July 20, 2012
By Chris Hanebury
The 2012 World Junior Squash Championships were held in Doha, Qatar from June 7-18, 2012. One-hundred and nineteen boys from twenty-three countries competed for the individual title before competing in the team event (4). This year, the junior girls only had an individual event as the boys and girls team event are hosted on an alternating annual basis. To compete in this tournament a participant had to be under the age of 19 as of July 18, 2012. The Egyptian boys were seeded first in the team event, and rightfully so after two Egyptians made the finals of the individual title (4). Egypt's top junior players have proved themselves on the Professional Squash Association (PSA) world tour (5), making the all difficult transition from the junior squash circuit to the pros. The Pakistani team was seeded and in the individual draw they had 3 players reach the round of 16. Two of which made it through to the quarterfinals and 1 of them made the final four before losing to the eventual champion (4). Although Pakistan finished according to their second place seeding in the team event, they were the country grabbing all of the media attention prior to the event (5,6). The age of the Pakistani athletes were in question after they chose to use a 'traditional' and controversial age verification method which revealed a number of their junior athletes were overage (5,6).

The controversy of overage athletes competing in the 2012 World Junior Squash Championships can be related to some well known instances in other sports (8,13). Former Major League Baseball (MLB) player, Miguel Tejada lied about his age when he signed his first minor league baseball contract (8). In 2008 a private investigator discovered that Tejada was actually 2 years older then he had claimed when being drafted (8). The article makes reference to the challenges that has faced MLB in determining immigrating players' age (8). Oddly enough, Tejada stated that his green card and driver's license both list his proper date of birth (8). If this is indeed the case, then it's baffling to consider how Tejada was able to get away with this lie, especially considering the amount of money involved in MLB. Tejada's incident isn't the only overage example in baseball to capture international media attention. In the 2000 Little League World Series, Danny Almonte steamrolled all of his 12 year old opponents as a starting pitcher (13). Danny won all 4 of his starts, giving up no earned runs, striking out 62 of the 72 batters he faced, and for good measure tossed a perfect game (13). 

According to sources there was a private investigation paid for by the parents of another team to investigate Almonte's actual age (13). At the time of the incidence, Lance Van Auken was the Little League director of media relations. Van Auken said that, "there is no way we can go and check the birth date of every player. All we can do is continue to depend on our volunteers and the parents who are signing up their kids"(13). No wonder they were unable to verify everyones age as the Little League had 1 to approximately 25,000 staff to athlete ratio. If situations like this have happened in main stream sports, what actions can the World Squash Federation (WSF) implement to prevent this from happening again in international junior squash competitions? Furthermore, how can we be proactive and prevent this from happening again instead of relying on post-event investigations to clear the air?

The details of what exactly transpired at the 2012 World Junior Squash Championships are unclear. But what is known is that Pakistan sent a very strong team (4). Whether any of the athletes on this team were overage is still in question. Although we could assume that because they played in this event that all of the participants were eligible (under 19). The countries must follow the rules and guidelines provided by the WSF. The WSF has a rule for the World Junior Championships that states that the athletes must be under 19 years of age as of the last day of the competition (15). Another WSF policy states that only if an athletes eligibility is in doubt the countries national squash federation has to provide supporting evidence (15). At the recommendation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) the WSF has recently implemented an independent ethics panel (15). According to the WSF this newly adopted panel is used 'very rarely' (15).

The issue surrounding the 2012 World Junior Squash Championships involves questions regarding the age of the Pakistan boys team (5,6). According to reports in the Pakistan media source 'The News,' the WSF and the Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) were working together to determine the age of their athletes and confirm their eligibility (5,6). The PSF issued age testing to 150 junior male squash players and over 60% were found to be overage (6). This announcement provoked controversy in the squash community, but it was the specifications of the age testing that made the media headlines more surreal. The testing the PSF used to determine the players age was an 'armpit test' (6). For the western civilization this appears like an ancient and unconvincing method to determine somebodies age. Even more so considering that this method is ultimately determining if an athlete is eligible to compete for their country on the biggest stage for junior squash. This situation makes for a great debate and raises some interesting questions. Did the WSF do the right thing by asking the PSF to produce their own age verification for their athletes? How confident is the WSF and the other countries that the results produced from the armpit test are accurate? Did this situation arise because of a WSF organizational and policy issue that needs to be improved? What implications does relative age have on competitive sport, and in particular squash? Is there an alternative solution to this issue that can prevent it from reoccurring? Or was this situation dealt with in an appropriate matter? These questions will form the basis of this article, in particular the impact of the relative age effect (RAE) of junior squash players. The goal is to demonstrate what advantages older and more experienced athletes have in competition and the importance of keeping them in their proper age groups. Finally I will list some action plans for eliminating future doubt over an athlete's age and eligibility, removing the cloud of doubt over future international junior squash championships.

In a study by Baker and Logan, (2007) a hockey players RAE proved to have a significant impact on the likelihood of being selected in the National Hockey League (NHL) draft. Baker and Logan reported that 64% of the hockey players drafted between the years studied (2000-2005) had a birthday in the first 6 months of the calendar year. This shows an advantage to kids that are only slightly older then their classmates. As children and teenagers these kids would generally be more physically mature and therefore more likely to be chosen for the higher skilled teams. Being chosen for a higher skilled team would in turn provide more opportunities, including expert coaching, training and competition. In another study by Musch and Grondin (2001), they found that when children play up in an age category (against older kids) it has a negative consequence on their personal development. They concluded that younger children are less successful competing against older children and that the RAE has a major impact on the athlete's perceived competence (7).

According to research by Stones (2001) the RAE discrepancies are most evident in sporting events requiring high power and endurance. Furthermore, Stones reported that the major contributing factors to the RAE were the athletes' knowledge, skill, experience and motivation to compete. These components are hypothesized to alter in relative importance over the course of an athletes' career (12). It was also suggested that age was an important factor because older athletes are more adept in applying their strategy and tactics. While a meta-analysis by Cobley (2009) involving male athletes (15-18) at a representative level (provincial or national), found RAE for all of the sports studied. When Cobley's findings are combined with the previous studies it seems logical that the RAE would be evident in a dynamic open sporting environment which requires a high level of endurance, such as squash.

Besides an internationals title, there was much more up for grabs at the 2012 World Junior Squash Championships. The United States coach was Paul Assaiante, the men's head coach for Trinity college (4). Trinity along with a number of other American colleges and universities have a lot of international squash players on their teams (3). This international event represented an opportunity for junior squash players to showcase their talent to various College Squash Associations (CSA) teams and coaches. The Canadian team included a freshman from Harvard and another player who has committed to Yale for the fall of 2012 (10). For junior squash players outside of North America, being recruited by a varsity squash team can be more challenging. This is another reason why it is so vital to ensure an even playing field for any world junior championship.

Besides the potential of being recognized and recruited from a varsity coach, there is much more at stake for junior squash players. It was shown through a variety of studies that the RAE has a major impact on many areas of a young athletes sporting career (1, 2,7,12). In junior squash this is no exception. What does a junior player do when he/she turns 19? Some might choose collegiate squash (if possible), but others will turn professional and register for a Professional Squash Association (PSA) or Women's Squash Association (WISPA) tour card (11, 14). The RAE is clearly relevant in squash as there are very few juniors (under 19) in the WISPA top 50 world rankings and even fewer in the PSA (11, 14). Making the jump to compete against professional adult players that have compiled many years of training and competition is very challenging. It appears that very few juniors can make this transition effectively under the age of 19. In Pakistan, their 2012 national junior closed had prize money of approximately $2,150 Canadian (9). This is not a customary practice in Canada or the United States as juniors are still considered amateur athletes.

The facts surrounding the PSF and their players are vaguely reported and difficult to determine. It has not been confirmed if any overage players competed in the World Junior Squash Championships, but there was plenty of debate and concern over this issue (5,6). The WSF could go on as currently proceeding and rely on each country to verify the age of all of their athletes. Although a simple approach that requires no additional resources it will not provide confidence to the other participants and coaches that there is an equal playing ground. Therefore the RAE could still persist and advantages would favour the older and overage athletes. A second alternative would be to make an amendment to the WSF rules and regulations outlining the specific measures that they will take to ensure proper age requirements are met at all major international junior events. The trouble with this option would be enforcing the rule. Who would enforce any potential consequences and what would they be? The WSF could need to make the participants provide age verifying identification at the time of registration and at the onset of the tournament. It would then just be a matter of which method is deemed acceptable for verifying the age of the athletes. Clearly there is some doubt among the media regarding the armpit method that was used for the Pakistani team (5,6). So the WSF might have to explicitly tell each of the national sporting organizations (NSO) which methods can be used for verifying age. This would undoubtably improve the standard of results for age identification. Implementing this option would rely heavily on each NSO for upholding this rule. This doesn't necessarily solve the issue though. What if a country does not have the proper resources or is more concerned with competing and winning then upholding this rule? Therefore, the rule in itself is not sufficient. A final alternative would be the creation of an additional, older junior category (e.g., under 21). This could help bridge the gap for kids that are 19 and 20 and allow them some more time to compete as a junior before deciding to enter college or turn professional. This could also potentially decrease the RAE of the athletes and might make athletes less likely to enter a younger division. Although this is not a fail safe plan, because this alternative does not ensure that 21 or 22 year olds will not attempt to register for the under 21 division.

Evaluating each of these options from a deontological perspective leads to some interesting conclusions. Obviously doing nothing is not a proactive and reasonable solution because this does not ensure that the RAE of the junior squash players are reduced. Whereas an amendment to the WSF rules for providing age verification would eliminate much of doubt regarding the eligibility of the athletes. Although this would take a lot of cooperation from the NSO's to uphold this rule. The WSF would have to hold the NSO more accountable for accurate age verification. If any NSO is found negligible they would be held accountable. This solution would involve creating consequences for any infraction, such as not allowing the other athletes from that country to compete in the event. This would make it much more likely that countries would uphold the WSF rules and regulations. The last alternative of creating an additional older, junior category could assist athletes in making an easier transition to the collegiate or professional level. This could also improve the RAE of junior squash players, but this policy on its own does not ensure the athlete will register into their appropriate division. It appears that more would need to be done to accurately verify the age of the participants.

The WSF cannot expect all of the participating countries and athletes to believe, adopt and abide to a standard set of ethics and morals. Therefore it seems doubtful that making an appeal to do the 'morally correct' thing would be a deterrent. The fact of the matter is that age and experience plays a major factor in determining the success of junior athletes (7, 12). Separating young squash players into the correct category is crucial for eliminating the RAE in competition and creating equality in competition. The most effective option for ensuring that this happens in future international squash tournaments is to have the WSF implement a rule requiring a standard method for athlete age verification. All of the participants' age should have to be confirmed at the time of registration and at the commencement of each world championship. Because of the large number of competitors involved, each countries NSO will be held accountable for confirming birth records. The rule would also have to state explicitly which methods are approved for measurement and which are not. The WSF could further deter overage athlete participation by implementing severe consequences for any infraction. They could penalize either the individual athletes, or suspend the entire team. This rule will increase the credibility of future World Junior Squash Championships and decrease the RAE of the athletes involved. This will ensure that the recognition and scholarship opportunities are provided to the proper group of athletes. Appropriate junior categories are a necessity for any international competition and with the implementation of this additional rule, the WSF can take a major step in the right direction.

References

  1. Baker, J., & Logan, J. (2007). Developmental contexts and sporting success: Birthdate and birthplace effects in national hockey league draftees 2000-2005. British Journal of Sport Medicine, 41, 515-517 doi:10.1136/bjsm.2006.033977. Retrieved July 13, 2012 online from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2465449/?tool=pmcentrez&rendertype=abstract
  2. Cobley, S. (2009). Annual age-grouping and athlete development: A meta-analytical review of relative age effects in sport. Sports Medicine (Auckland), 39(3), 235.
  3. College Squash Association (2012). Retrieved July 15, 2012 online from: http://collegesquashassociation.com/
  4. Doha WSF World Junior Squash Championships 2012. Retrieved July 3, 2012 online from: http://www.wsfworldjuniors.com/
  5. Gilmour, R. Pakistan Official Check Players Armpits to Determine Age as World Squash Joins Force to Remove Doubt. The Telegraph. July 3, 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/squash/9371526/Pakistan-officials-check-players-armpits-to-determine-age-as-world-squash-joins-forces-to-remove-doubt.html
  6. Hamza, W. Old Methods Used to Determine Players' Age. The News. June 23, 2012. http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-10-116235-Old-method-used-to-determine-players-age
  7. Musch, J., & Grondin, S. (2001). Unequal competition as an impediment to personal development: A review of the relative age effect in sport. Developmental Review, 21(2), 147-167. doi:10.1006/drev.2000.0516.
  8. Ortiz, J. At 33 Tejada's 2 Years Older Than Astros Thought. The Houston Chronicle. April 17, 2008. http://www.chron.com/sports/astros/article/At-33-Tejada-s-2-years-older-than-Astros-thought-1598689.php
  9. Pakistan Squash Federation. Retrieved July 6, 2012 from: http://www.squash.com.pk/
  10. Personal conversations with Tyler Olson (Harvard student) and Zach Leman (Yale).
  11. Professional Squash Association. Dunlop PSA World Rankings. Retrieved July 14, 2012 online from: http://www.psaworldtour.com/page/WorldRankings/0,,13121,00.html
  12. Stones, M. J. (2001). Sports performance, age differences in. In Editors-in-Chief: Neil J. Smelser, & Paul B. Baltes (Eds.), International encyclopedia of the social & behavioral sciences (pp. 14944-14947). Oxford: Pergamon. doi:10.1016/B0-08-043076-7/01384-X.
  13. Thomsen, I & Llosa, F. One For the Ages: Birth Records in his Native Land Suggest that Danny Almonte, Star of the Little League World Series, May Have Been a Ringer. Sports Illustrated. August 27, 2001. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/features/cover/news/2001/08/27/llwseries/
  14. Women's International Squash Players Association (2012). Retrieved July 14, 2012 online from: http://www.wispa.net/
  15. World Squash Federation. World Squash Championship Regulations (version 4.4). April, 2012. Retrieved July 6, 2012 from: http://www.worldsquash.org/




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