There exists a global perception associating the African continent with a wide variety of cheating in sporting activities. Particularly, the one with much global belief is the issue of age cheating. It is not uncommon to see African athletes lie about their age to gain the benefits associated with such.
Over the years, there has been constant increase in the number of people banned for age-cheating in various youth grade competitions. This perhaps stems from a ‘win at all cost’ mindset that African teams develop – sacrificing development for short term glory.
It is therefore no wonder that despite huge number of youth grade international tournaments won by African countries, their best performance at the grandest of stages have always been quarterfinals appearances.
The question begging answers has been, ‘How can youngsters (as presumed) that dominated the world at their youth level fizzle away, sometimes less than 5 years post tournament, while their counterparts from other continents would be at the top of their games, playing among the best clubs in the best leagues in Europe?’
Age cheat is the use of false document to gain undue advantage over an opponent.
Many sad tales of age cheat have been recorded in Africa. In 1989, FIFA banned Nigeria’s youth national team for fielding over-age players in FIFA youth tournaments. Subsequently, the country lost its hosting rights of the 1991 FIFA World Youth Championship.
More recently, in 2019, Guinea lost their place at the U-17 FIFA World Cup after being found guilty of registering two over-age players at the Continental level.
This reoccurring issue has continually placed young talents coming out of Africa under intense international scrutiny, and questions have always been raised about their talents.
Perhaps with the introduction of technological devices such as the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), it will be easier to ascertain the exact age of players for youth-level competitions.
The MRI is considered to have a 99.9% accuracy until the age of 17 where it becomes increasingly difficult to adequately determine the age.
It works by determining the fusion level of bones in the body. However, it is not completely effective post 17.
With the hope that more testing methods will be developed, it is left to see how adequately football governing bodies can effectively manage this cancerous issue.