Sports powerhouses across the world usually emphasise on nurturing young talent, but in India, the School Games Federation of India (SGFI) -- the governing body of school sports in the country -- has put a blanket ban on students up to fifth standard from participating in national school competitions.
Even if they are good enough to make it to the under-14 teams — the junior-most age group in school sports events — then too they will not be allowed to represent their state or union territory (UT).
A circular issued by the SGFI on July 19, 2015 reads, “In the age group of under-14, a player studying below sixth standard will not be allowed to participate in the national school competitions.”
The rule will not just be applicable to national school competitions but also to state and district-level meets.
In the last edition of various national school competitions, players in the 10-11 years age group won medals in the under-14 category in disciplines such as swimming, gymnastics, table tennis, chess and archery.
“This is not an individual decision but a collective one taken during the AGM where representatives of all the states and UTs were present. Moreover, students will get a chance once they move to sixth standard. So, I don’t think it will be a hurdle in their sporting careers,” said SGFI general secretary Rajesh Mishra.
When asked for the reason behind the decision, he said, “Players up to the age of 11 require special attention from accompanying officials. Most of the time, they are accompanied by parents and on occasions, the local organisers have had a bad experience dealing with parents. This issue was raised during the AGM and the house agreed to it.”
Interestingly, to accommodate students of third to fifth standard, the SGFI has put them in the under-11 category. But the option is only there on paper. Apart from roller skating, no under-11 national competition is held in any other discipline.
Sports medicine consultant and former Olympian Dr Vece Paes told HT, “There should not be any restriction on younger players competing in higher age groups in disciplines such as swimming, gymnastics, table tennis and chess among others. In all these disciplines, players start at an early age. But in contact sports, we can have age restriction.”