She is the national youth record holder in the triple jump. But even if she breaks the Asian youth mark in the forthcoming Youth National in Goa, Athira Surendran will not be eligible for next month’s Asian qualifiers in Bangkok for the Youth Olympics in China in August.

In fact, the international athletics body will not even consider Athira’s mark for its record purposes. For the world body, IAAF, and the Indian association, AFI, follow different systems to calculate age in the youth and junior categories.

While the world body considers only athletes who are 16 or 17 on December 31 in the year of the competition as youth, the AFI is much more generous. It allows boys and girls who would not turn 18 till the last day of its national meet to take part.

For example, in the Youth National, which runs from April 20 to 22, athletes born on or after April 23, 1996 can take part. But to be eligible for the Asian qualifiers, which follows immediately after that, and in the Youth Olympics, only athletes who are born in 1997 or 1998 are eligible.

Thus, two of the six record-breakers — Palakkad pole vaulter Godwin Damian and Alappuzha hammer thrower O. Sanithi — and five of the 16 gold medallists, including the fastest girl Alappuzha’s A.P. Shilbi of the State youth championship which began here on Sunday, will not be eligible to take part in the Asian qualifiers because the AFI uses a different system to calculate an athlete’s age.

In fact, if the AFI had followed the IAAF’s system, these athletes would not even be competing in the State youth championship!

But the AFI says that it has the liberty to deviate a little from IAAF rules for the benefit of its athletes. It mentioned its under-22 age-group competition, which does not figure in the international calendar, as a case in point. It also claims that it has adopted its own system to help athletes make the most of their last year in a particular age group. “If they win, so many athletes are eligible for so many benefits, like admission in college etc,” said C.K. Valson, the Athletics Federation of India secretary, from Chennai on Sunday. “That was in our mind and we have debated this at length in the executive committee meeting and only after that did we take this stand for our national championship.”

Valson also revealed that the national body’s technical committee had suggested that the AFI follows the IAAF rule to bring about some uniformity, but it was turned down by the general body.

Drawbacks

However, he admitted that the AFI’s system had its own drawbacks. “Because organisers of national championships find it difficult when they conduct meets, but at the same time, we have to see the interest of athletes also,” said Valson. “The three strongest States in India — Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Haryana — where the junior teams are very strong will face a problem (under the AFI system).

“But then, we as a federation are looking at a brighter future for young athletes. And as a technical official, I favour the IAAF rules, but as the national federation secretary, I would like to follow the AFI system.”

Eight months ago, confusion over the system of calculating age saw many Indian athletes being disqualified from the Asian Youth Games in Nanjing, China, which will also be the venue for this year’s Youth Olympics.

But Valson said a notice had been sent to State associations well in advance regarding this.

“That is why we have clearly said that only athletes born in 1997 and 1998 are eligible to qualify for the Youth Olympics. We have specifically mentioned this in the prospectus,” he said.

The age issue is likely to be discussed once again at the AFI’s AGM, which will be held in Meerut later this week.

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