Thursday, August 11, 2011

Age Rules (and Age Fraud) in Women's Gymnastics

Andrea Eagleman and I collaborated on a paper that was recently published in the University of Baltimore Law Review. A working paper version can be found on SSRN here. The initial impetus for the article was to analyze gymnastics’ minimum age rule from an antitrust perspective. However, the research quickly morphed into the policy-related issue of age fraud in sports. Age fabrication was a high-profile issue during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and will likely be a part of next year’s Olympics as well. For example, the entire North Korean women’s gymnastics team has been banned from the 2012 London Olympics because of rampant state-sponsored age fraud. In most sports, athletes falsify their age downward. The reverse is true in women’s gymnastics, where gymnasts (in concert with their coaches and/or national federations) manipulate their age upward, purporting to be older than they actually are. An excerpt from our conclusion is below:

While gymnastics’ current minimum age rule would likely survive an antitrust challenge, the rule’s policy impact has been profound in two distinct ways, both negative. First, as predicted by Bela Karolyi, the enactment of the current age rule has helped usher in an era of increased corruption related to age fabrication. As the recent cases in China and North Korea evidence, the nefarious conduct reached governmental levels, where officials knowingly altered documents to further the fraud. Second, the countries that falsify such documents as a way to circumvent the age rule have created an unlevel playing field vis-à-vis those countries that follow the rule.