Even though the player was suspended, Hockey India did not cancel the goals he scored so Manipur’s wins were upheld.
In 2019, a 17-year-old hockey player represented Manipur in the Junior National Championship, meant for under-21 players.
Last week the same player represented the state in the Under-17 category at the sub-junior nationals in Jind, Haryana.
As per his Aadhar card records submitted as part of a complaint to Hockey India by Maharashtra, which lost 2-4 to Manipur in the group stage on March 18, the player was 20 (date of birth: February 2, 2001) when he played the Under-17 tournament.
On March 19, Hockey India suspended the player, for violating their Code of Conduct related to age fraud, from the sub-junior nationals. The player, who was allegedly overaged, scored all four goals for Manipur in the game against Maharashtra.
That win helped Manipur enter the semifinals, where they will play Haryana on Wednesday. Maharashtra got eliminated.
Maharashtra also demanded that all goals scored by the player be nullified.
“The boy has scored all 4 goals against my team which we lost 4-2. His not being on the field would have given us the momentum to win,” the team wrote in its protest letter.
However, even though the player was suspended, Hockey India did not cancel the goals he scored so Manipur’s wins were upheld.
In a letter, Hockey India’s technical delegate Sonia Bhatla said they suspended the player after scrutinising his past record. “(sic) As per the communication received from Hockey India, after scrutinising the records on the Hockey India member unit portal and with that of the earlier records it has been stated that the player has breached Hockey India Code of Conduct,” Bhatla wrote. “Hence the team player of Manipur Hockey… stands permanently suspended from further participation in the Hockey India Sub Junior Men’s National Championship 2021.”
With an intention to curb rampant age fraud, Hockey India launched the member unit portal in 2019, where data of all players along with their age proofs – especially in the junior and sub-junior categories – has to be uploaded.
“In compliance with the National Sports Development Code 2011 on Prevention of Age Fraud, Hockey India has a policy on Age Fraud and provision of issuance of Identity Cards to all the registered players of the Hockey India Member Units,” the federation states on its website.
However, a coach whose team was a part of the sub-junior nationals said the Manipur players’ case showed the system is not foolproof.
“The player’s documents were uploaded and accepted for sub-junior nations even though he has played a tournament for under-21 players in 2019. It shows a lot more needs to be done to tackle the problem of age fraud,” the coach said.
According to data available on Hockey India’s website, the Manipur player who was suspended played four matches in the 2019 Junior National Championship and did not score a single goal. However, in the sub-junior nationals, he scored eight goals – four each against Maharashtra and Gujarat – before getting suspended.
Hockey India president Gyanendro Ningombam, who is from Manipur, did not respond to a questionnaire sent to him. “President is busy today,” Hockey India said.
Age fraud isn’t the only issue teams are complaining about during the sub-junior nationals. Several teams have expressed concerns over Hockey India’s decision to conduct the tournament – its premier event for the under-17 age group – on a gravel surface.
Teams complained that they were prepared for the tournament on artificial turf but upon reaching Jind, they realised that the matches would be played on a football ground. “It’s not even grass. We are playing matches on gravel surfaces, which has brought down the quality and exposed players to injuries,” a coach said.
Teams have also complained about poor facilities, including a shortage of water. Ningombam did not reply to questions about matches being played on gravel as well.
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