What’s age-doping?

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Age doping involves falsifying information about an athlete’s age to compete in age-restricted events. It can involve forging documents or bribing officials. Detecting it is difficult as physical appearance can be deceptive. Age requirements protect athletes and level the playing field. Gymnasts may use age doping to compete in prestigious events.

Age doping is a form of cheating that involves falsifying information about a competitor’s age in a sporting event. “Doping” is a reference to forms of cheating involving the use of illegal substances to enhance performance; However, aging doesn’t actually require ingesting a doping agent, at least not in its current form. Like other forms of doping, exceeding the age raises a number of issues and many people frown on it.

There are a number of reasons for having age requirements in place for athletes. In horse racing, for example, some races are limited to horses of a specific age in an effort to level the playing field. The Kentucky Derby, for example, is only open to three-year-old horses. Age restrictions should also protect athletes from exploitation and ensure young bodies are not pushed too far. Some events even have an age limit designed to address fitness concerns in later life, although, as swimmer Dara Torres demonstrated in 2008, relatively advanced age is not always a barrier to athletic performance.

People also have a variety of reasons for trying to subvert age requirements. In gymnastics, a sport that has been plagued by doping allegations, the younger an athlete is, the more flexible his or her body. Gymnasts have to walk a fine line between being too young to harm themselves and being too old to be flexible. Sometimes there are only a few years for a gymnast to compete, so she can make the most of doping to get into prestigious events like the Olympics.

Of course, no known substance will age people. Age-doping involves forging documents used to establish and prove age, such as birth certificates and passports. It can also involve bribing officials responsible for certifying athletes as fit for competition. If performed at an early age, the doping age can also be reinforced with a record of participation in age-restricted events, suggesting that the claimed age needs to be corrected.

Detecting doping age is difficult, because unlike other forms of doping, doping age cannot be proven with a urine sample. Physical appearance can be extremely deceptive, as people develop at different speeds, and when people compare physical appearance across cultures, the situation becomes even more complicated. Often the truth only comes out when an athlete comes forward to admit it, or when contradicting age records about the competitor’s age can be uncovered and verified.

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