The Goal Lounge: Age-cheating: Why is Africa a major culprit?

Our reporters discuss the age-old issue of age-cheating and why Africa has been at the forefront of this canker. Have your own say below!
The Goal Lounge
Welcome to the latest edition of our weekly series, where we introduce you to the Ghana reporters and their opinions on trending issues about the beautiful game. So take a seat and relax in The Goal Lounge as our panelists debate:
Age-cheating: Why is Africa a major culprit?


The single most important factor that motivates the practice of age-cheating in Africa, quite ironically, is not even animate. That is to say, from my perspective, no single individual or national FA can be held ultimately responsible for institutionalising the trend on the continent. The identity of the actual culprit here is that of the one abstract enemy that has plagued African society for so long: Poverty. Few, if any, of the countless African players who have ever obliged to having their actual ages altered for footballing reasons can claim to be entirely oblivious of the enormity of the scams which they consent to. Most do acknowledge the practice is wrong, yet concede they could hardly help it.

Many of these footballers who are born and bred in the harsh economic realities prevalent across Africa - especially in the continent’s sub-Saharan region - desperately seek a means of elevating themselves and their families above such impoverished existence and soon discover football as a viable opportunity of doing so. Unfortunately, the majority often fail to come to that realisation early enough. Thus, in order to make up for the lost time, several of such late bloomers resort to reducing their real ages just so they can meet the standard requirements for access to age-grade national sides and some of the professional football academies operating in these parts. Invariably, they are aided in falsifying these vital figures by cunning and greedy football administrators that abound in the African game and who promise to help them get into their respective nations’ U17 and U20 teams in exchange for a fair cut of the huge transfer fees and wages the boys are likely to earn later in their career should they excel at the major youth-level tournaments. Thus, few are ever capable of the moral and mental fortitude required to make them reject these unscrupulous individuals and the offers they dangle so enticingly when they do approach. Hence, as long as poverty ceases not to permeate as a definite, powerful coefficient in Africa, and such corner-cutting procedures continue to present themselves as by far the surest means of dribbling past its crippling ills, there appears no foreseeable end to the practice of age-cheating on the continent, terrible as it is.

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Age-cheating has been a problem for a very long time. And the menace has been predominant at the youth level of football. Over the years Africa has become a major culprit to the age-cheating menace because of our mentality about going into the tournament to win at all cost rather than seeing it as a developmental process for the future of the continent’s football. It has affected African countries greatly and has taken a toll on us, especially with the introduction of the MRI scan machine.
The problem of age-cheating in Africa is also manifested in guardians and parents lying about the age of their wards to the coaches and the coaches to the football administrators and so forth. Despite the fact that the MRI scan is not 100 percent correct, scientists say it is either plus one to three for the person’s age or minus one to three, the machine only detects people who are four years older than the initial competition age.

Frankly, the system which will be recognised as the most authentic will be the doctor’s date of delivery. Caf needs to be strict on the ages of players before they even compete in world tournaments. An example is players like Ransford Osei who won the silver shoe thus the second highest goal scorer in the 2007 Fifa Under-17 World Cup and Dominic Adiyiah on the other hand was adjudged best player in the 2009 Fifa Under -20 and I ask myself if truly they were below 20 years why are they struggling to even get first team action in their respective teams while players such as Toni Kroos was awarded the Golden Ball and also won the Bronze Shoe after scoring five goals, Thomas Muller, Bojan in the same tournament are a core members of top teams like AC Milan, Bayern Munich just to mention a few.

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Africa has never fallen short of the production of very talented footballers who have all contributed in diverse ways in making the sport the most admirable worldwide. However, the same continent has been the biggest culprit when it comes to what can be described as age fraud. The main reason why age-cheating is rife in Africa stems from the debilitating economic conditions. Scouts worldwide are aware of the enormous talents in Africa and often troop there for ‘fishing.’ These scouts are mostly interested in young players, preferably teenagers, and with desperate players eager to jump for the opportunities, they are left with no options than to fabricate their ages. In most parts of Africa, footballers are paid meager salaries which are sometimes in arrears, so the dream to travel abroad to make ends meet drives them to do anything to make it possible. The players are even aided by their local agents in this age fraud activities.
Secondly, the mentality of African juvenile teams to win competitions at all cost is another factor. The U17 and U20 tournaments are organised to help participating countries to groom players for the senior national teams in the ensuing years. But in Africa especially, the attitude of being so desirous to win the junior and youth tournaments has contributed to age cheating. Africa is bedeviled with poor structures at the football academy level which has also not helped matters. Unlike in Europe where the academies are well structured and also benefit from a system which makes the tracking of ages easier, the story is far different in our part of the world.
This is not to say the age-cheating syndrome takes place in Africa only. Europe, South America and the other continents have all had their share of age fraud in football but the practice in Africa is alarming. At the on-going Africa U-17 championship in Morocco, nine players have been sent home after failing the MRI tests.
That even prompted the South African Football Association president, Kirsten Nematandani to call on his colleagues to help stamp out the blight of age cheating.
Speaking on the opening day of the African Football Executive Conference in Johannesburg, Nematandani said: “When you ask an African player how old he is, he will say: 'Do you want my football age or my real age?'”

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