'Age cheating' is a well known problem for the international sporting federations. A new IOC report discusses different methods available to determine chronological age.
The protection of an athlete’s health is an important task for the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Unfortunately, in a number of sports it is suspected that the chronological age of the participating athletes is younger or higher than the age stated on the official documents.
To follow-up this concern, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and professor Lars Engebretsen, Head of Research & Science in the IOC and Head of the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center (OSTRC) gathered a group of 15 researchers for a consensus meeting to discuss how this problem can be solved.
Ideally, a reliable solution to determine chronological age should be applicable across all sports.
Although skeletal age, measured by x-ray scanning, is said to be the most accurate method of assessing biological maturity, variations up to two years in bone age have been observed in adolescents of the same chronological age and gender. X-ray scanning does not allow a precise determination of the chronological age and is therefore limited for the purpose of age determination.
The International Football Federation (FIFA) has started projects to validate x-ray scanning against MRI scanning, which is a radiation-free, albeit much more expensive method.
Based on these projects, MRI scans can help deciding whether or not young male football players are over or under 17 years of age.
There is, however, currently no evidence to support the use of MRI studies of the wrist for age determination of athletes below 14 years and above 17 years of age.
Age determination by ultrasound may have the potential to assess growth plates in the wrist or elbow, but further validation studies of ultrasound measurements are needed.
After two days with extensive discussions and review of the literature, the researchers within radiology, orthopedics, pediatrics, and endocrinology had to conclude that there is no sufficient method available to determine chronological age in athletes.
From Norway, besides Lars Engebretsen, Harald Steen (Oslo University Hospital), Roald Bahr (President of the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) Medical Commission and OSTRC), and Kathrin Steffen (OSTRC) participated.
Read the consensus paper.