Goal highlights the very real threat African football's powerhouses ought to guard themselves against, what with Caf's newfound zeal to prosecute
By Sammie Frimpong
It has been long overdue but, finally, the Confederation of African Football has bared its teeth -teeth we never thought it had - at one of the continent's football's enduring ails: age-cheating.
And, of all the culpable parties, it is lowly Gambia that received the bite. For fielding as many as five over-aged players in a qualifier - against Liberia on April 6 this year - for the next African U-20 Championship, the smallest country in mainland Africa has been banned from Caf-sanctioned competitions for two years.
All five players were born in 1994 while the competition, according to a Caf circular dated 2 September 2013, is only open to players born on 1 January 1995 or later.
Thereafter, CAF launched an investigation into the case of a player Ali Sowe, born on 14 June 1994 with passport Number 332465, who was among the quintet whose inclusion led to the suspension of The Gambia. Indeed, Sowe had already registered with CAF in 2012 by Gamtel FC in the Orange CAF Confederation Cup with the same passport number but with an altered date of birth that read 14 October 1988.
It might be The Gambia that has found itself in Caf's crosshairs, yet it could easily have been any one of African football's more influential forces.
Say, Ghana? Or Nigeria, perhaps?
Possibly. In fact it is a tad surprising that it hasn't been one or both nations that have been gripped in Caf's clutches instead. It is an open secret that Ghana and Nigeria have always stocked their junior national teams with players whose actual ages shoot right through the roof. Granted, it wouldn't be entirely fair to claim that the two countries' remarkable successes at international youth football have been solely down to their covert, age-old deceptive tactics, but the role that factor has played cannot be overstated. Put simply, whereas age fraud is frowned on elsewhere, the practice has grown time-honored - even institutionalized - in places like Ghana and Nigeria.
Serious doubts have been raised over the accuracy of the ages declared even by well-established stars from either country, not to name names, while a good number of 'young' footballers from both sides have failed the MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan since the test was adopted for footballing purposes not too long ago.
For Caf's freshly assumed enforced stance on age-cheating to be sounded loudly enough, the Cairo-based body would do well to seek out and make bigger scapegoats. Few, if any, would feel the absence of The Gambia on the international scene (no disrespect to a country whose football has steadily improved over the years), but should a similar fate befall Ghana and Nigeria for identical reasons, seismic waves would surely be sent all over the continent. Sensational it might be, but such a move would hardly be unthinkable. For a fact, neither is above the law.
The same goes for Cameroun, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal, and the other heavyweights of African soccer who have sought to bully their way to the top via similar illegal means.
The Gambian example teaches, if anything, that football authorities in these lands ought to clean up their act. And fast, for Caf - armed with its newly acquired denture - is coming for them.