What is Age-Doping?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 January 2020
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Age-doping is a form of cheating which involves falsifying information about the age of a contestant in a sporting event. The “doping” is a reference to forms of cheating which involve the use of illegal substances to enhance performances; age-doping doesn't actually require the ingestion of a doping agent, however, at least not in its current form. Like other forms of doping, age-coping raises a number of issues, and many people frown upon it.

There are a number of reasons to have age requirements in place for athletes. In horse racing, for example, some races are restricted to horses of a specific age, in an attempt to level the playing field. The Kentucky Derby, for example, is open only to three year old horses. Age restrictions are also supposed to protect athletes from exploitation, and to ensure that young bodies are not pushed too far. Some events also have an age ceiling which is designed to address concerns about fitness at an advanced age, although as swimmer Dara Torres proved in 2008, comparatively advanced age isn't always a barrier to athletic performance.


People also have a number of reasons to attempt to subvert age requirements. In gymnastics, a sport which has been plagued with age-doping accusations, the younger a competitor is, the more flexible his or her body is. Gymnasts must walk a fine line between being so young that they damage themselves, and being too old to be flexible. Sometimes there are only a few years in which a gymnast can compete, so he or she may make the best of it by age-doping to get into prestigious events such as the Olympics.

Obviously, no known substance will cause people to age. Age-doping involves the falsification of records which are used to establish and prove age, such as birth certificates and passports. It may also involve bribery of officials responsible for certifying athletes as fit for competition. If performed at an early age, age-doping can also be reinforced with a record of participation in events with age restrictions, suggesting that his or her stated age must be correct.

Detecting age-doping is tricky, because unlike other forms of doping, age-doping can't be proved with a urine sample. Physical appearance can be extremely deceptive, as people develop at different rates, and when people compare physical appearance across cultures, the situation gets even more complicated. Often, the truth only comes out when an athlete steps forward to admit it, or when contradictory records about the competitor's age can be uncovered and verified.


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