February 1, 2023

Cameroon Under-17s football team: Why 32 players were ejected for ‘age cheating

7 min read


This has been a problem for ages though Cameroonian Football great Samuel Eto’o It seems determined to end it.

Cameron sealed his eligibility for 2023. Africa Under-17s tournament of the Cup of Nations with a 2–0 win over the Republic of Congo on 15 January, but the squad that won the match was unrecognizable from the squad initially selected for the event.

This is because 21 players from the original 30-member group were disqualified for failing the age eligibility test. MRI scan According to BBC Sport, the bone age was determined and then kicked out of the team.

To make matters worse, 11 substitutes included in the squad also failed the Test and were too old to play in the qualifiers.

The exclusion of these players followed the decision by Cameroon Football Association (FECAFOOT) President Eto’o to test the players before the match.

“These players depend on football and most of them come from poor families and backgrounds,” Cameroonian journalist Giovanni Vania told CNN Sports, adding that the players involved had falsified their ages. Why would you try?

“They want to shorten their lifespans so they can play longer and make more money.”

Age verification issues are not new to the world of football.

Sir Alf Ramsey, the manager who led England to their only World Cup title in 1966, changed his date of birth. According to Morning Star, this was so that he could get a professional contract as a player after World War II.

Brazil’s Carlos Alberto was 25 when he won the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship with Brazil, a tournament for players under the age of 20.

According to ESPN, the player admitted in a television interview that he shortened his age because, “It was an opportunity for me to make a living… I was hungry.”

Sir Alf Ramsey, England's greatest manager, said he was two years younger than him.

However, the issue of player age is particularly prevalent in countries such as Cameroon and its neighbours.

Famously, the former Newcastle United and current Marseille and DRC defender World governing body FIFA had investigated Chancellor Mbimba for allegedly celebrating four different birthdays.

In an interview with The Mirror he claimed to have had bone tests to confirm his age and was ultimately ruled to have been born on that day by FIFA’s disciplinary committee.

Ghana and Nigeria, who have seven FIFA U-17 World Cup titles between them, have come under scrutiny because of the ages of their cup-winning teams.

Some observers question the success that teams have had at the youth level, but this has not been 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 development squad,” Gomezgani Zakazaka, Competitions The head of and communications at the Malawi Federation told CNN Sport.

I mean we have been the stars of the U-17 World Cup. But what happens after that? How do we translate our success in the Under-17s to the national team? These are the questions we must ask ourselves as Africa,” Zakazaka added.

Ivorian journalist Mamadou Gaye went further, telling CNN Sports: “I would even say it would be quite fair for Africa to return all these trophies to FIFA. [the seven U-17 titles won by Nigeria and Ghana]Because it is plain and very clear that it was won by fraud.

Africa’s love affair with football is no secret.

At Qatar 2022, Moroccan and Tunisian fans made every game feel like it was in Casablanca or Tunisia. The Ghanaian, Cameroonian and Senegalese fans, although outnumbered in each match, also brought a color and noise that almost no other nation has matched in the tournament.

However, unlike rivals in Europe and South America, the majority of African countries do not have the talent pipelines and organizational infrastructure to develop all the youngsters who aspire to be the next Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah.

A sport that is usually idealized for its cherished values ​​often becomes a matter of luck in Africa, where players have fewer and fewer opportunities to pursue professional careers.

A lack of opportunities, coupled with a lack of social mobility, means that many young children and their families believe that football can be a ticket out of poverty.

This frustration and lack of opportunity is a breeding ground for players to be exploited, whether by coaches, administrators, agents, and even parents who want to capitalize on a child’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, Eto’o is trying to change that 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 Vaniya, who points out that most clubs in the country have no guarantee of regular salaries for players.

Samuel Eto'o is trying to modernize Cameroon's club football, implementing a minimum wage for top division clubs.

With a lack of opportunities at home and a shrinking window to move to more lucrative contracts, clubs in Europe are increasingly looking for potential stars of the future at an increasingly young age, the temptation to manipulate a player’s age – Specifically to make them younger – and thus appear more attractive to the national team and clubs.

Meanwhile administrators are struggling with record-keeping – not just in football but in wider society – according to Zakzaka, who says he has experience of the problem in his own 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 reports.

“It’s still a challenge because we’re using a manual registration and record-keeping process in this part of Africa,” Zakzaka told CNN Sports.

“Another major issue is the issue of lack of birth certificates. You have a lot of kids playing football who don’t have birth certificates.

While countries such as Cameroon and Malawi are starting to adopt digital birth certificates, football administrators in Africa still face challenges in verifying a player’s date of birth.

As a way of verifying a player’s age, the continent’s football governing body – the Confederation of African Football (CAF) – has adopted the use of MRI scans.

The MRI scans the athlete’s wrist, examining the growth plate before grading it from one to six.

Grade six means an athlete’s growth plate has completely fused to the bone, which usually occurs at age 18 or 19.

However, Thulani Ngwenya, who is a member of the CAF Medical Committee and has been part of CAF’s implementation of MRI scans, explained that the MRI method is not an accurate estimate of one’s age.

“It’s not the age limit and the protocol, it’s the eligibility protocol, which are two different things,” Angonia told CNN Sports.

“It fuses at 18 and 19, but it’s not set 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 also only works for boys because the wrist growth plate is different for girls.

Nonetheless, this MRI application serves as a mechanism to verify the athletes’ eligibility and provide a definitive line that can be enforced.

And implemented it. If a player fails the CAF eligibility test in competition, the entire team is disqualified.

Cameroon became the first African nation to beat Brazil at the World Cup last year.

Chad was disqualified from the qualifiers in Cameroon due to a single failed test, and the DRC had to pull out of the tournament after BBC Sport reported earlier this month that players had failed their tests. After that, he could not find a replacement in time.

By testing his players thoroughly before qualifying, Cameron was able to replace those who were unfit and pick from the squad for the qualifiers.

Thanks to Chad’s disqualification and DRC’s withdrawal due to ineligible players, Cameroon only had to beat Central African Republic and Republic of Congo to qualify for the Under-17 AFCON, which they did comfortably.

“For Cameroon to come out in the open, it will send a very strong message to the youth structure in Cameroon,” Zakazaka says.

“It is no longer business as usual whereby you only pick players who will be judged based on the documents they have brought.”

Journalist Gaye agrees: “When we put it out in the open, it will serve as a lesson to everyone. And it will be a clear and strong message to all the agents, all the parents, everyone involved in the game. Don’t try to cheat. If you try to cheat, we will not only kick you out, we will ban you.

While countries such as Cameroon continue to digitize birth records they are also able to use FIFA Connect, a database where federations can register players with a unique FIFA ID code, acting as a digital passport. works.

While there is no definitive mechanism for verifying a player’s age at registration, once they are in the FIFA Connect system, their data is impossible to tamper with, making Cameroon and Malawi Federations like this get the ability to keep track of every single player. players in their ecosystem.

The adoption of FIFA Connect, as well as the growing adoption of digital record keeping by continent and federation presidents such as Eto’o, means the days of the “cheating age” are numbered.

“The bill stops with us as a federation as far as putting in place structures that make sure there’s nothing to do with fraud in the first place,” Zakzaka says.

“[But] I would say that moving forward these days, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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