“I don’t want to go the academy. Everyone will laugh and ask me how long I’ve been this age.” There’s also Facebook – that all-pervasive beast – to deal with, as Alluri Sri Sai Siril Varma, battles age cheating allegations.
One of four shuttlers who was stopped from travelling to Indonesia for the Asian u-15 and u-17 meet, by the Sports Authority of India, after a skeletal X-ray examination at the Ram Manohar Lohia hospital on October 5 in Delhi declared him to be within 18-20 years instead of the 16 years 10 months he claims, Siril is distraught by more than just the chance to claim the u-17 title at Kudus, where he won the bronze last year and was top seed this time around. Even as he stayed indoors the last few days refusing to step out and says it’ll be tough to face the taunts if he steps out to practice at the Gopichand Academy, he replays the events of the last weekend when the incident unfolded.
“How could it be? I’ve gone through many age tests in the past and not failed any. Suddenly half an hour before I was to fly out, I was told I am over-age and not going to participate. I’ve worked hard for three months and now I’ve lost the tournament which comes only once a year,” he says.
Age fudging is prevalent across disciplines and sickeningly common too in Indian sport so the steps taken by SAI to not send out over-aged players should ideally be considered praiseworthy. However, after a second verification that Siril underwent at AIIMS immediately a day later which declared “Bone age is estimated to be between 16-18 years based on examination,” Siril stresses he’s confused and disappointed.
For the first time, every player in the 20-strong group across u-15 and u-17 headed out for the international meet underwent the x-ray test which is accurate upto within a plus-minus-6 months range. Siril is 5’10” and big-boned, a former u-15 Asian championship winner, and tested frequently given natural suspicions that arise in Indian sport where the scourge is rampant. “I know it happens, but I’ve been tested before. I have all proofs,” he pleads.
While Siril couldn’t comprehend the reports that told him he was between 18-20 years, claiming, “it was all very unclear and casually written”, he knows cynicism will follow him, and the taint will stick. “I want to tell everyone that the AIIMS report said I hadn’t cheated. It was a digital x-ray and just to be doubly sure, we did an MRI as well,” he says. Three diagnosticians reports and as many school certificates add up to his birth year being 1999, but the shuttler is keen that his last test be given due attention.
Soon after he was told that he would not be allowed to participate at the u-17 meet, Siril had been too shocked to make sense of what had happened and started walking aimlessly on the street near his hotel, with his mother running after him to stop him. She would slip and fall and break down many times trying to explain to coaches and his supporters that he hadn’t cheated. “We’ll show you our marriage certificate if you want more proof,” his father would say. “We don’t know why he was picked on and told that he was four years older than what he is, but we don’t want this to cast a shadow on his career,” he adds. “He can’t keep getting tested every second day exposing him to radiation.”
His family and coaches are upset that one report was taken in isolation, and there are calls for tests to be conducted at the start of the year and sequential certificates to be verified.