Mark Gleeson

Age cheating a worry

2011-04-18 07:23
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
Mark Gleeson

An agent stalking around the Johannesburg hotel this week housing many of the teams in this week’s African under-20 championship tells me they are most athletic looking under-20-year-olds he’s ever seen.

By all accounts the size and facial maturity of the supposed under-20s makes a mockery of a supposed age group event.

I hope it is an exaggeration but for too long now, age cheating has been the scourge of the African game, creating false realities and expectations and leaving an air of suspicion over every African footballer who goes to play overseas.

Past admissions of the practice where officials falsify date of birth in passports have verified widespread suspicion.

In Nigeria, a cabinet minister unveiled the ruse and there are a few who believe in the validity of any age group team to this day.

Ghana and Nigeria have a bevy of world titles at under-20 and under-17 level but have never kicked onto a World Cup triumph. Indeed, neither country has ever even made it to the quarter-finals of a World Cup.

Surely one of the dominant junior generations would have gone onto senior success if they were genuinely playing in the right age group.

FIFA and the Confederation of African Football’s willingness to take on this scourge have been lacklustre at best. Mexico were banned from one junior World Cup for age cheating but when Brazil were found to have fielded a player with a false date of birth they were not given the same sanction.

CAF have never investigated any of the frequent age cheating claims that cross their desk. Instead they have wrung their hands in indifference claiming they cannot be seen to be questioning the validity of a document (passport) issued by a sovereign country.

Medical science has come to the rescue at under-17 level where MRI scans of the wrist bone can determine, with some 99 percent certainty, whether players are underage.

But bone development stops within a year or two of that and by the time players are aged 20 it is impossible to make an accurate determination with the same test.

So it is used by FIFA and CAF for under-17 events, and has uncovered much cheating as well and serves as a top class deterrent, but the under-20 championships are still a cheating free-for-all.

Football officials, including our own South African Football Association, still have a lily-livered approach to cheats and a tolerance that serves only to encourage them.

To my mind, there is a simple solution. Any one caught cheating in the game is kicked out of the sport. Full stop. Never to return again, be he an administrator, coach or player. A few harsh life bans and we will quickly see a change of culture and attitude.

But as long as there are gaps to exploit and a lack political will to rid the sport of its unsavoury underbelly, then the rampant corruption will continue.

The African Youth Championship in Soweto this week should provide us with some fine football and insight into the potential stars of tomorrow. It is a tournament well worth following. But why don’t they call it by its proper name. The African under-25 championships!

Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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