ⓘ Age fraud in association football
Age fraud is age fabrication or the use of false documentation to gain an advantage over opponents. In football, it is common amongst players belonging to nations where records are not easily verifiable. The media often refer to the player with false documentation as an "age-cheat".
There are several reasons why players choose to use false documentation. European scouts are looking for young talented players from poorer countries to sign for a European club. The players know that there is a lesser chance of being signed if they are, for example, 23 years old as opposed to 17 years old as there would be less time for the club to develop the player.
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."
In some cases, it is possible for the player not to know their own date of birth and make an approximate guess when it comes to gaining official documents.
1.1. Examples Africa
One of the best known examples of a player falsifying documentations is Cameroons international football defender Tobie Mimboe who held several documents during the course of his career that indicated he became younger as time went by.
In 1989 Nigerias 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.
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 players 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.
In late 1999, Anthony Kojo Williams was appointed as head of the Nigeria Football Federation. He lasted less than three months in the job and was dismissed because, in NFF board member Zaria Sanis words "he has failed to carry the other board members along" In the 2010 BBC World service documentary Africa Kicks, Williams stated that the Nigerian Government were "afraid of change". He went on to say, "I dont see Nigerian football getting out of the quagmire, the problem it is in today is because it in the world cup U17 can win the trophee sic, because at that level we like cheating on our age."
In May 2019, Guineas 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.
1.2. Examples Asia
The Asian Football Confederation ejected DPR Korea, Tajikistan and Iraq from the 2008 AFC U-16 Championship after qualifying, and Cambodia, Macau, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Bhutan and Kyrgyzstan were ejected from the qualifying after being found to have fielded over-age players, while Yemen were ejected from the tournament for fielding an overage player.
Sixteen players were banned by AFC in 2000 and eight were banned in the 2010 AFC U-16 Championship.
AFC introduced age detection methods in its age group competitions in 2000.
1.3. Examples Europe
Dave Bowler, author of Winning Isnt Everything: Biography of Sir Alf Ramsey, claims that Englishman Alf Ramsey forged documents so that his date of birth changed from 1920 to 1922. Bowler alleges that Ramsey feared that come the end of the Second World War, he would be considered too old to be offered a professional contract.
1.4. Examples The Americas
In the scandal known as the Cachirules, all of Mexicos international teams were banned for two years by FIFA from international competition in 1988 when the Under-20 national team was proven to have consciously fielded several over-age players.
Brazilian Carlos Alberto de Oliveira Junior won the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship using fake documents to claim that he was born on 24 January 1983. Because of this, he was banned for 360 days from football.
An Ecuadorian footballer, real name Angel Cheme, played the majority of his professional career as Gonzalo Chila, which was the real name of a player three years his junior whom he had met when they both had trials at a local club, thus enabling him to play in age-restricted matches for three years after he was entitled to do so; he was eventually suspended for two years.
1.5. Examples Oceania
In 2018, the Solomon Islands, which originally finished second in the 2018 OFC U-16 Championship, were found by the Oceania Football Confederation to have deliberately fielded overage player Chris Satu during the tournament. As a result, they forfeited their results and also their place in the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup. However, the decision was appealed by the Solomon Islands Football Federation, and the OFC Executive Committee met to decide on their replacement after the appeal process has been concluded and decided to uphold the appeal, thus allowing Solomon Islands to take part in the tournament. Solomon Islands were later found to have fielded at least one other overage player in the qualifying tournament and subsequently banned from participating in the qualifying and finals for the 2021 FIFA U-17 World Cup
2. Introduction of MRI
The mandatory use of magnetic resonance imaging MRI was introduced by FIFA in 2009 for the FIFA U-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 medical professionals to calculate a persons age. Professor Jiri Dvorak of FIFA said: "The efficiency stops at 17 and its just pure coincidence that FIFA made their competition an Under-17 event". Every bone in the arm and leg has an end plate from which bones grow. When the growth is completed usually around the age of 17-18, then this end plate disappears on the MRI scans. Dvorak concedes that the scan results "will be unjust to 1% of all examined players".
The researchers had classified the scans into 6 grading system, as follows:
Of the 429 MRI conducted by the Asian Football Confederation in 2007, 10 players or 2.7% were found to be over the age of 16 years in an otherwise Under-15 tournament. In 2008, one out of the 116 MRI conducted had full fusion.
Not everybody was pleased by the introduction of MRI. Nigeria had lost 15 players after they were proven to be over-age. Nigerias Football Federation President Sani Lulu said: "I’ll not use the MRI to disqualify my players." He felt that FIFA had sprung their decision to use MRI upon the nations.
Lulu wanted to invite the parents of the national Under-17 players to verify their sons ages. Nigerian Sports Minister Sani Ndanusa dismissed the parent verification system and stated the "whole world has gone digital and were following suit. Were no longer in the analogue era."
Lulu stated that NFF did not need to scan players as it wasnt in the competitions rules and regulations. Ndanusa stated: "FIFA wants MRI scans used and were going to adhere to that, simple."
For the same tournament, the Gambia Football Association had scanned 53 of its players and "few" failed. It was suggested that "two or three" whom the MRI scan had revealed to be overage were participants at the 2009 African Under-17 Championship.
In 2011, the Confederation of African Football CAF enforced the use of MRI for the 2011 African Under-17 Championship.
In July 2013, sixteen-year-old United States-born Abuchi Obinwa failed an MRI test when undergoing assessment to represent the Nigeria U17 team at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
In August 2016, it was reported that 26 Nigeria U17 players had failed MRI tests prior to their match against Niger U17s.
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