Sport-Thousands of Chinese athletes faking ages in Guangdong

BEIJING, March 11 (Reuters) - The sports ministry in Guangdong Province says it has undertaken X-Ray bone analysis on 15,000 youth athletes and found a fifth of them had misrepresented their age, local media reported.

Suspicions of age faking have dogged Chinese sport over the last couple of years and at one stage threatened to cause huge embarrassment for the hosts at last year’s Beijing Olympics.

Guangdong is hosting the Asian Games in its capital Guangzhou next year and the deputy sports bureau chief of the southern province said they would be taking no chances.

“We want to make sure fakers have no advantage,” Ye Xiquan told the Guangzhou Daily newspaper.

The athletes tested were the top eight in each event at provincial youth competitions in 2008 and all those who had signed up for this year’s Provincial Games.

The result showed 3,000 were older than they claimed, 2,000 of whom were no longer eligible for any youth sport and 1,000 who should have competed in different age categories. Ye said 16 athletes in one event had faked their age and the worst offenders were up to seven years older than they were allowed to be.

Funding follows success in China’s state-run sports system so officials at city and provincial level have long been suspected of using overage players to help them win tournaments.

China was accused of adding years to the age of two gymnasts so they would be eligible to compete at last year’s Olympics after media reports indicated the gold medallists might be younger than 16.

The governing International Gymnasts Federation (FIG) investigated at the behest of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and were satisfied with documentary evidence provided by the Chinese authorities.

The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) last year discovered 26 players who had inaccurately registered their ages playing in its top flight league.

New Jersey Nets forward Yi Jianlian is officially listed as being 21 but a cloud of suspicion surrounded his age before was picked sixth by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2007 NBA draft. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney and Liu Zhen; Editing by John O’Brien)