Waking up to tackle the menace of age fraud in Indian tennis, national federation AITA has decided to subject all junior players entering the national championships to age verification test, a step which Mahesh Bhupathi says should have been taken 50 years ago.
The players selected to represent the country at junior Davis and Fed Cup will also have to undergo the same test.
The All India Tennis Association (AITA) said the alleged molestation inside the CLTA complex, which led to accusation of age-fudging against five junior players, has provided them an opportunity to re-introduce the deterrent.
"From now onwards all players in age group competitions (U12, U14 and U16) in the main draws at the national championships will be subjected to age verification test (TW3). Also, the junior players selected to represent country will have to undergo the test," AITA secretary general Hironmoy Chatterjee told PTI.
"It's not that we are doing it for first time. In the past also, players were asked to take this medical test but somehow it was stopped.
"Now that the CLTA issue has gained a lot of media attention and senior players have voiced concerns, the AITA office bearers discussed and felt that this step is required," he said.
The cost of the test will be borne by the players entering the national championship and by the AITA for junior Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams. A player will be not tested twice if he or she comes out clean in the first test.
There were suggestions that age verification test should be made mandatory when a player registers with the AITA but Chatterjee said it was not required.
"There are a few guidelines in place. When a child is registered within a year of his birth, then that document is valid for registration with AITA. But if the certificate is procured after one year and the player comes to us, we can ask for age verification test," he said.
India's first Grand Slam champion Bhupathi said such a system should have been in decades ago.
"This is a basic requirement so I am not going to applaud anyone and say well done. It has come 50 years too late," Bhupathi told PTI.
"Lots of kids have had to deal with this for so many years. Hopefully, this is just not a random announcement and they can put a disciplined process to make sure both kids and parents will be held accountable for trying to cheat."
Vishal Uppal, who has been a junior Davis Cup captain, said the AITA must not leave room for any ambiguity.
"It's a much-needed step in the right direction, but has to be implemented across the board. The players in the qualifying draw should also be tested. It has to be done through a trusted lab, where the manipulation is not possible.
"The testing should be done before the start of the national championships at the venue only," said Uppal.
Chatterjee said they are not ruling out the possibility of introducing tests for qualifying players but as of now they would begin with only main draw entrants.
If both qualifying and main draw players are tested, it covers all the top-100 players in each age group. Both the main and qualifying draws consist of 64 players each, which would take the number of players being tested to 128.
It is highly unlikely that the national championships will be conducted in the domestic 2020 calendar due to prevailing health crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rohan Bopanna, only the fourth Indian to win a Grand Slam, also felt that AITA was late in taking the step but nevertheless welcomed it.
"AITA has said it was aware of the situation then I don't know why they did not do it earlier. But it is absolute necessary. I am glad to hear they are taking this initiative," said Bopanna.
The molestation and age-fraud allegations against players, including a junior Davis Cupper, shook the Indian tennis fraternity recently.
The investigation, initiated by the father of the minor victim, led to even cancellation of the birth certificate of one of the accused.
However, the AITA said that it will not rush into a decision to suspend the registration of the accused players.
"We are waiting for the court order," said Chatterjee.
When pointed out that the court case involves only the molestation charges and the Haryana state government has already swung into action by cancelling the birth certificate of a player, Chatterjee said, "we can still wait. All the documents are with the court."
"We will not shy away from taking the strongest possible action against players, officials and administrators found guilty but we will wait for a court judgement."