Age cheating is a common practice in African football to an extent that players in amateur leagues are known to have two ages.
Age fabrication also allows an older player to enter in youth competitions. FIFA says that “over-age players have been wrongly entered into various youth competitions, often benefiting from an unfair advantage due to their greater physical maturity compared to players of the proper age.
Football administrators believe age cheating took a leap after the commercialisation of the game in Africa. Clubs and footballers’ agents have been accused of encouraging players alter their age so that it becomes less hard to obtain contracts with European clubs looking out for young talents.
The mandatory use of Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was introduced by FIFA in 2009 for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup to help ascertain whether players are over age or not. MRI is considered to be 99% accurate until the age of 17, after which it becomes harder for.
Below are some of the African countries found guilty of age cheating.
In 2018 Benin’s U17 team was disqualified from the WAFU-B U17 after half of their players failed the test. Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire had one player each sent home.
In August 2018 three Kenyan players were disqualified from the CECAFA U17 tournament in Tanzania after they failed MRI tests.
Also in 2003, Kenya’s Under-17 national team were dissolved by the Kenyan Government after some players revealed themselves to be over 18 years of age.
In 1989 Nigeria’s youth national teams were banned by FIFA for fielding over-age players in FIFA-organised youth tournaments. The birth dates of three players at the 1988 Olympics were different than the ones used by those players at previous tournaments. The resulting ban lasted for two years and Nigeria was also stripped of its right to host the 1991 FIFA World Youth Championship.
Zambia were disqualified from the 2016 COSAFA Under-17 Championships in Mauritius having been found to have fielded two over-age players for the tournament.
Ghana was disqualified from the 2015 U17 AFCON for fielding an overage player
The issue blew up when Cameroon filed a protest against seven (7) players of the Ghana U-17 national team on 13th September 2014 after the first-leg match of the third round of the qualifier, which Ghana won 2-1.
Out of the seven (7) players, the CAF Medical Committee made adverse findings against two players.
In May 2019, Guinea’s U-17 Under-17 national team were found guilty by CAF for age fabrication of two players, Aboubacar Conte and Ahmed Tidiane Keita, at the 2019 Africa U-17 Cup of Nations. Hence, they lost their place in the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
In 2016, Fourteen Cameroonian footballers suspected of having reduced their age to participate in the Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) were suspended by the country’s federation (Fecafoot).
South African journalist Thomas Kwenaite uncovered several “age-cheats” representing South Africa who participated in an Under-15 age group tournament hosted in France. The captain of that side was a 24-year-old third-year University student from Port Elizabeth.
After revealing the age of the player, the player’s father took Kwenaite to the South African press ombudsman for “slander” before withdrawing his complaint after it was found that school records show that the player would have started school aged 2 years old. Kwenaite also claims that he was told that he was “unpatriotic” for reporting the story.
Zimbabwe, Comoros, Eswatini, Botswana
In 2020, The Confederation of African Football (CAF) Youth Competitions Committee disqualified Zimbabwe, Comoros, Eswatini, Botswana teams from the 2020 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship for fielding over-age players.