There is nothing new about age-cheating in football, and despite that, the many measures being taken at all possible levels to put an end to it have bit the dust miserably.
When the ‘supposedly’ 17-year old Lazio player Joseph Minala was accused of being 41 years old in early 2014, it sent the footballing world into a tizzy. It brought back to light the rampant problem in football that has been haunting all age-group tournaments - the problem of age-cheating.
Another incident that has brought this issue into further prominence in recent years is regarding the highly talented Portuguese teenager Renato Sanches, who has been subject of age-related criticism thanks to his prodigious talent at a young age.
With the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 set to kick-pff, it has become a matter of high priority for FIFA and the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre (F-MARC) to ensure that this problem doesn’t affect India’s first major football tournament.
FIFA hasn’t ignored the problem for all these years - in fact, stringent measures were already in place for the 2015 U-17 World Cup in Chile, as they were in the World Cups prior, but if reports coming from the FIFA Local Organizing Committee (FIFA LOC) are to be believed, the governing body for football is taking checks up a couple of notches.
For perspective, let us compare the anti-age-fraud tests to the anti-doping measures in Olympics.
In the Olympics, the athlete doesn’t head to the podium right after winning a medal, as against popular perception, but instead they head to the doping control room in the event venue, where they are made to provide a sample for testing.
In contrast, the anti-age-fraud checks in the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile involved a two-step process.
In the first step, the federations of the participating nations need to get their players checked before they leave for the tournament. This is the step where several Nigerian players were caught right before they left for Morocco before the U-17 World Cup in 2013.
Then, in the second step, the FIFA anti-age-fraud team picks players from each squad on a random basis and test whether their age is above 17 or not.
And these measures are set to get a boost, reportedly. For the U-17 World Cup in India, FIFA plan to conduct random tests on at least two players per team after every match. Around the 85th minute, FIFA chooses any two players who have to undergo medical tests at the conclusion of the game.
As for the test itself, the Tanner-Whitehouse test or the TW-3 test is in place to detect age-fraud. It involves an MRI scan of the distal radius, or the wrist bone, and measure the level of fusion there. This distal radius fusion can verify the player’s claim of being younger than 17 years, as the test distinguishes those who are above the age of 17.
It is to be noted that this is valid only in terms of male athletes and has high degrees of variance when used for female athletes, making it an unfit measure.