Cameroon closed its eligibility for 2023 Africa On January 15, they won the Cup of Nations U-17 tournament 2–0 with a 2–0 win over the Republic of Congo, but the team that won that match was unrecognizable from the team originally selected for the tournament.
21 players from the 30-member original group were disqualified for failing the age eligibility test. MRI scan According to BBC Sport, to determine the age of the bones and then dropped from the team.
To make matters worse, 11 replacements drafted into the squad also failed the test and were too old to play in the qualifiers.
The expulsion of those players followed the decision by Cameroon Football Association (FECAFOOT) President Eto’o to test the players before the tournament.
“These players rely on football and most of them come from poor families and backgrounds,” Cameroonian journalist Giovanni Wanneh told CNN Sports, explaining why the players involved tried to falsify their ages.
“They want to lower their age so they can play longer and make more money.”
Issues surrounding age verification are not new to the football world.
Sir Alf Ramsey, the manager who led England to the World Cup title in 1966, changed his date of birth. According to Morning Star, after World War II, he could get a professional contract as a player.
Brazil’s Carlos Alberto was 25 when he won the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship with Brazil, a competition for players under the age of 20.
According to ESPN, the player admitted in a television interview that he dropped his age because, “It was my chance to live … I was hungry.”
However, the issue of player age is particularly prevalent in certain countries such as Cameroon and its neighbors.
Famously, the former Newcastle United and current Marseille and DRC defender Chancellor Mbemba was investigated by world governing body FIFA for allegedly celebrating four different birthdays.
In an interview with The Mirror, he claimed to have had a bone test to prove his age and was eventually ruled to have been born on the day claimed by FIFA’s disciplinary committee.
Ghana and Nigeria, who have seven FIFA U-17 World Cup titles between them, have come under scrutiny for the age of their Cup-winning squads.
Some observers question the success enjoyed by teams at the youth level, but not replicated at the senior level of international football.
“I’m sorry to say that in the past we’ve had coaches trying to play for the podium instead of thinking about the whole idea of having the U-17 or U-19 as a developmental team,” tournament head Gomezgani Zakazaka. And communication in the Malawi Union, said CNN Sports.
“I mean we were the stars of the U-17, World Cup. But what happens after that? How do we take our success at U-17 into the national team? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves as Africans,” added Zakazaka.
Ivorian journalist Mamadou Ge told CNN Sports: “I would also say that it would be fair for Africa to return all those trophies to FIFA. [the seven U-17 titles won by Nigeria and Ghana]Because it is clear and very clear that it was won through deception.”
Africa’s love affair with football is no secret.
At Qatar 2022, fans from Morocco and Tunisia made every match feel like they were in Casablanca or Tunis. The fans from Ghana, Cameroon and Senegal, though outnumbered at each game, brought a color and noise unmatched by almost any nation in the tournament.
However, unlike rival countries in Europe and South America, most African nations do not have the talent pipeline and organizational structure to develop all those youngsters who want to become the next Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah.
A sport usually idealized for its meritocratic values is often a matter of luck in Africa, where players must take opportunities that are few and far between to pursue a professional career.
A lack of opportunity, coupled with a lack of social mobility, means that many young children and their families believe that football can be their ticket out of poverty.
That frustration and lack of opportunity is a breeding ground for players, be it coaches, administrators, agents, and even parents looking to cash in on a kid’s talent.
This is even more difficult in a country like Cameroon, where a career in domestic football does not provide a reliable source of income, something Eto’o is trying to change by introducing a minimum wage for players playing in domestic leagues.
“[To name] Financially stable clubs in Cameroon at the moment, I can only point to two,” says Wanne, who explains that most clubs in the country have no guarantee of regular salaries for players.
With the lack of opportunities at home and the narrowing of the window to move to more attractive deals, clubs across Europe are increasingly looking for future stars at an increasingly young age, there is a temptation to manipulate the age of players – especially to make them younger – and thus. National teams and clubs look more attractive.
Meanwhile administrators are grappling with problematic record-keeping – not just in football but in wider society – according to Jakajaka, who says he has experience with the issue in his home country.
Like Cameroon, Malawi recently tested their own players ahead of their qualifiers and had to drop some from their squad, The Times Group Malawi reported.
“It’s still challenging because we’re using a manual process of registration and record keeping in this part of Africa,” Zakajaka told CNN Sports.
“Another important issue is the problem of lack of birth registration. You have a lot of kids playing football who don’t have a birth certificate. ”
While countries such as Cameroon and Malawi have begun to adopt digital birth certificates, football administrators in Africa still face challenges in confirming a player’s date of birth.
As a way to verify a player’s age, the continent’s football governing body – the Confederation of African Football (CAF) – has adopted the use of MRI scans.
An MRI scans the athlete’s wrist, checking the growth plate before grading it from one to six.
Grade six means the player’s growth plate has completely fused to the bone, which usually occurs by age 18 or 19.
However, Thulani Ngwenya, who is a member of the CAF Medical Committee and has been part of CAF’s MRI scan implementation, explained that this MRI method is not an accurate age assessment of someone.
“It’s not an age determination and a protocol, but it’s an eligibility protocol, which are two different things,” Ngwenya told CNN Sports.
“It fuses at 18 and 19 years old, but it’s not cast in stone to see.”
CAF recognizes that it is still possible for players over the age of 17 to be eligible to play. The scan only works for boys because the wrist growth plate is different for girls.
However, this MRI application serves as a methodology to verify the eligibility of athletes and provide a fixed line that can be applied.
and implemented. If a player fails CAF’s eligibility test in competition, the entire team is disqualified.
A single failed test led to Chad being disqualified for the qualifiers in Cameroon, and the DRC had to pull out of the tournament because it could not find replacements after players failed their own tests at home, BBC Sport reported earlier this month.
By testing his players before selection, Cameroon was able to replace those who were ineligible and pick from the squad for the qualifiers.
Thanks to Chad’s ineligibility and the DRC’s withdrawal due to ineligible players, Cameroon only had to beat the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo to qualify for the Under-17 AFCON, which it did comfortably.
“For Cameroon to open up, it will send a very strong message to the youth structures of Cameroon,” says Zakajaka.
“It’s no longer business as usual where you just pick players who will be judged according to the documents they bring.”
Journalist Gaye agreed: “When we put it out in the open, it will serve as a lesson to everyone. And it’s a clear and strong message to all agents, to all parents, to everyone involved in the game. Don’t try to cheat. If you try to cheat , we will not only kick you out, we will also ban you.
While countries such as Cameroon continue to digitize birth records, they are able to use FIFA Connect, a database where confederations can register players with a unique FIFA ID code, which acts as a digital passport.
While there is no sure-fire mechanism to verify a player’s age at the point of registration, once they are in the FIFA Connect system, their data is impossible to tamper with, giving confederations such as Cameroon and Malawi the ability to keep track of each. player in their ecosystem.
The adoption of FIFA Connect, the growing adoption of digital record keeping across the continent and confederation presidents like Eto’o mean the days of “cheating the age” seem numbered.
“This bill stops with us as a federation as long as we are putting in place structures to ensure that there is nothing to do with fraud,” says Jakajaka.
“[But] I would say that going forward these days, there is light at the end of the tunnel.”