When Gaurav Mukhi scored a goal against Bengaluru FC, equalising for Jamshedpur FC in an Indian Super League, he was announced as the ‘Indian Super League’s youngest-ever goal-scorer’.
Mukhi, all of 16, sporting a moustache, did not look the part and social media wouldn’t quiet down. Soon old reports emerged which claimed that Mukhi had been sanctioned by the All India Football Federation for previously having admitted to being over-age and the player’s Facebook page at the time indicated that he was born on April 5, 1999.
The concept of age fraud is not new to Indian football. In 2012, a whopping 72% of the probables selected by the AIFF for the under-17 World Cup team were found to be overage. In the most high profile allegation of age fraud ever, the federation had the chance to lay down a benchmark.
(Also read: Indian football’s tussle with age fraud is an old one)
Social media chatter meant that the AIFF chose not to ignore this case and with the controversy around Mukhi’s age refusing to die down, had a golden opportunity to set the records straight.
The AIFF’s Disciplinary Committee handed Mukhi a six-month suspension from all competitions under its ambit but did not specify the nature of his indiscretion. In a release sent by the AIFF, it stated that Mukhi was found ‘guilty on the basis of the evidence presented by him, his admissions and the statements of Manager of U-16 AIFF academy in 2015’.
This sentence was lesser than the original one year handed down to the player in 2015. Also, it partially imposed its own Disciplinary code, with no sanctions for Jamshedpur FC. Additionally, Mukhi’s own response to AIFF’s showcause notice states that ‘It is only with the help of people in local football that I have managed to get passport’. In such a case, surely these ‘people in local football’ should have been questioned?
I would like to state some facts as below. I had played in the Coca Cola Cup 2015 representing Jharkhand. The tournament was in two phases, the first in Cuttack and the second in Goa. On both the phases there was a medical test which was conducted by the All India Football Federation in both Cuttack and Goa and I has passed both these tests successfully, which is why I was allowed to compete in the two phases.
After the Goa leg I was part of the AIFF trials, in which they conducted a medical test. I was not aware of any paper neither was shown the report after the medical test. We were taken in a room and I was asked to sign a paper, the content of which I did not understand, after which we were sent back to Jharkhand.
I would like to state that I was 13 years old then (ie a minor) - also I am not educated and I dropped out of school as my family could not afford to send me to school. As a minor, without guardian/parent present, I cannot confirm what I was made to sign in Goa.— Part of Gaurav Mukhi's statement to the General Secretary of the AIFF, Kushal Das
Mukhi’s response, signed by him and his mother Vijayshri, makes it seem like he was coerced to sign an undertaking that he admitted to being over-age. This coercion by his own admission took place after a medical test conducted as part of the AIFF trials.
The Disciplinary Committee’s sanction invalidates this response and punishes the player according to point 2, Article 62, Section 5 (Forgery and Falsification). But in doing so, it also must take into account points 4 and 5 which state that the ‘member association’ and the ‘club’ shall also be held liable.
The Jharkhand Football Association (JFA) had been sanctioned in 2015 as it wasn’t just Mukhi, but four other members of its Coca Cola Cup winning team that reportedly admitted to being over-age. However, the repeat sanction for Mukhi should have meant a repeat for the JFA as well.
ISL club Jamshedpur FC, owned by Tata Steel, should have also been held culpable for the alleged offence according to point 5.
Mukhi’s case should not be seen in isolation. For far too long, clubs and youth set-ups have escaped sanctions on players by claiming it was the individual’s mistake or intent to forge documents while letting officials and perpetators escape scot-free.
While the AIFF specifically did not mention age fraud, doing so would have been acceptance that the player lied about his passport details. The threat of legal sanctions for providing false information on a passport far outweigh a six month suspension. Section 12 of the Passport Act, 1967, clearly states that falsification of details is “punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year but may extend to five years and with fine which shall not be less than ten thousand rupees but which may extend to fifty thousand rupees] or with both”.
The player’s response was an ideal one, one where he countered his own signed admission from three years ago and claimed that he was in fact, 16. This would mean that Mukhi’s only mistake was signing a form and being under-age at the time, neither the signature nor the intent to confess on the original declaration would hold valid.
In addition, the AIFF Disciplinary Committee also observed that the existing registration of Gaurav Mukhi, both in the Central Registration System (CRS) as well as the Competition Management System (CMS) shall stand cancelled and revoked with immediate effect, with liberty upon the player/ his appropriate club, to submit original valid appropriate documents for fresh registration under CRS and CMS.— AIFF's statement announcing Mukhi's suspension
Re-registration in the Central Registration System would invoke the usage of ‘original valid appropriate documents’ as per the AIFF. But that document in this case, the passport, would have to be changed, thereby alerting the Ministry of External Affairs and the Jamshedpur police authorities.
The alternative? Mukhi registers six months later with the same passport, thereby maintaining his current date of birth and his status as ‘ISL’s youngest goal-scorer’, thereby preserving the status quo.
The AIFF’s six-month ban is a slap on the wrist of the player, who will be eligible to play in domestic, national and international competition after the completion of the time period. In doling out this ban, the Disciplinary Committee has opened itself up to more questions. This case might die out, but the problems surrounding Indian football’s age fraud saga continue.
Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Tata Trusts should be held culpable in this case. The names of Tata Football Academy and Tata Trusts have been removed from the article as they have no connection with Mukhi. The error is regretted.