If you believe Chinese age listings, Guo Ailun will be 17 years-old on November 14th.
That’s a big if, though. In regards to listing birth years, Chinese state-run athletic associations are about as reliable as a “lock line” in the NFL right now — according to a Chinese sports ministry investigation in 2009, an estimated 20% of 15,000 athletes tested to be older than their originally claimed age.
The practice is especially pervasive in basketball, Yi Jianlian and Wang Zhizhi being the most prominent guilty parties. Arthur Volbert, a US-based writer for Asia-Basket China who has been following Chinese hoops for years, listed 22 CBA players who inexplicably changed their age from the previous year.
For provincial and national basketball organizations, the reason for lying about a players’ age is simple: Older players tend to do better against younger competition. Not surprisingly, China has had a lot of success in Asian youth competitions. Then there’s this one, too: Players who play at a high level at a “young” age can play for their Chinese club teams for a longer time before either heading to another team or to the NBA.
But, sometimes lying about a promising young players’ backfires in ways unforeseen, like it did today with the CBA’s ruling over Guo’s eligibility for the upcoming CBA season. Despite playing for the Chinese senior national team this summer in Turkey, Guo, listed as born in 1993, does not officially meet the 18 year-old minimum age requirement to play in this year’s CBA senior division. In an effort to appeal that rule, Guo’s club team, Liaoning Panpan, registered him on the team’s 2010-11 senior roster with the hope that the CBA and the 16 other teams under its jurisdiction would vote to overturn the discriminatory rule in order to let him play.
The result: Sorry, not this year. In a country where the only thing people like more than making rules is sticking to them, Guo will have to waste a year of development playing in the CBA’s youth league, despite probably being old enough in reality to play.
In case you’re wondering, the Chinese word for “regret” is hou hui.
In what is being called the “Guo Ailun Clause,” players under the age of 18 who have played for the senior national team will be allowed to play in the CBA’s top division starting this season, as long as the team registers them on their official roster. This is according to a report from Sina Sports posted yesterday afternoon, which differs from the report we read earlier yesterday from Beijing Youth Daily. The BYD report explicitly stated that Guo would not be able to play in games because of his 1993 birth year.
The Sina Sports report was put up shortly after I had completed the above post. I did not check back with the world of Chinese hoops until later this morning. The lesson: It’s a good idea to check back with the big boys of Chinese media later in the day. Now I’m the one with hou hui.