Age cheating makes a mockery of FIFA’s youth tournaments
In 2003, the Nigerian sports minister, Stephen Akiga, told AFP: “We have for a while now been fielding players far above the ages agreed for some international age-group competitions.”
More recently, in August this year, former Nigerian FA president Anthony Kojo said: “We use over-age players for junior championships, I know that. Why not say it? It’s the truth. We always cheat. It’s a fact.”
FIFA has long been aware of the problem, particularly in its under-17 World Cup. I covered the first 10 of those tournaments, and quickly learned of a widespread belief among coaches – especially the Europeans – that the African and Asian teams were using over-age players. FIFA clamped down – not on the suspected cheaters, but on the critics, and Portugal’s coach Carlos Queiroz was told he would be sent home if he made any more comments on the matter.
X-ray tests were introduced but then ridiculed when it became clear that they had a margin of error measurable in years, not months. In 2003, FIFA announced that the x-rays would be replaced by MRI tests on wrist bones.
At that year’s under-17 tournament in Finland, FIFA’s chief medical officer Jiri Dvorak
Ahead of the game...Nigeria’s Kelechi Nwakali with the 2015 Under-17 World Cup