Cameroonian football is at the height of a scandal after 32 players called up for an under-17 tournament failed an ‘age test’, suggesting they were older than they claimed to be. It’s in the middle.
As a result, the players were disqualified from the Central African Football Confederation’s competition in the Cameroonian seaside town of Limbe.
After 21 of the first 30-man team were disqualified, a further 11 players failed the age test. This means federations face a race against time to find enough qualified players before the event kicks off on Thursday, January 12th.
The mini-tournament will also feature the Republic of the Congo, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, with the top two qualifying for a continental youth tournament in Algeria in April.
The problem of “age fraud” is a serious problem in world football. Athletes in poorer countries with imperfect systems of record keeping, youth are a valuable commodity and are ruthlessly scrapped when players are deemed ‘too old’.
The president of the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot) is Samuel Eto’o, a four-time African Player of the Year and three-time Best Player of the Year. champions league winner. Eto’o, 41, is desperate to professionalize the football culture of a world-beating nation. Brazil recently World Cup However, they have only made it through the group stage of the sport’s biggest international competition once, in 1990.
We all agree that age misrepresentation is a serious problem in Cameroon and elsewhere, but repeated discussions with local experts highlight the complexity of the issue. From the perpetuation of racial stereotypes to the danger of age misrepresentation false accusations ruining the careers of innocent young footballers.
There are also serious doubts about the effectiveness of medical resonance imaging (MRI) tests used in age testing.
“The Cameroonian Football Federation has informed the public that 21 out of 30 players currently in training have failed MRI results as part of the qualification preparations for the upcoming African U17 Nations Championship in the UNIFFAC Limbe 2023 tournament. A federation spokesperson said in a dramatic statement on December 29th: Action was immediately taken for a replacement. ”
Under Eto’o’s “strict instructions,” Fekafoot has previously “tarnished” Cameroon’s football image and put an end to falsification of civil status records, a problem that has affected neighboring countries. described how the actions were taken so that the world.
Bambe Wanneh Giovanni is a Cameroonian football journalist, athletic.
“We’ve had so many cases of age fraud,” he said, noting that while this happens all over the world, it appears to be a particular problem in Cameroon and other African countries. I admit it.
“Players are scouted when they are 17 or 18. Clubs at this age really want to acquire talent to develop players,” he says.. “If they get past the level of 17 or 18, they won’t have a chance to play in Europe.”
Professional football is a lucrative career for everyone, but the potentially transformative nature of professional contracts is magnified in Cameroon, where nearly 40% of the population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank. That number is much higher than in rural areas. area.
Opportunities are also increasing. Decades ago, African footballers who went abroad mostly joined clubs in Western Europe, but now other destinations are possible.
of CameroonOnly two of the 26 strong teams at the recent World Cup in Qatar played for their home clubs. Many of the other players still play in traditional Western European leagues, with three from Saudi Arabia’s squad (including captain Vincent Abubakar) based in Russia, Turkey, the United States and China. There were players.
The increasing globalization of football means that young Cameroonian footballers have more and more chances to build a career in the game and earn life-changing sums of money for themselves and their families. .
These economic incentives, coupled with a lax record-keeping system, especially in rural areas, have driven some Cameroonian footballers to age fraud.
This usually works by having the player adopt an entirely new identity, usually with subtle tweaks to the name and of course changing the date of birth. falsification of records.”
“This is not out of malice, but because players want a longer career,” explains Wanneh Giovanni. “They want to make more money for themselves and their families.”
Daniel Ekonde is a journalist for Cameroon Radio and Television.
“Athletes know that through sport they can easily change their lives,” he says. athletic“People try to do the best they can, even when they do it wrong.”
Ekonde suggests that it would be unfair to place all responsibility and sanctions on very young players, who are often seen as victims of fraud. ”
He expressed “surprise” that the scandal happened when the federation was trying to professionalize it.
“Cameroon has a national football academy that was established five or six years ago,” he explains. “They take players from seven to 14 years old and go through the youth system.”
Everyone in African football agrees that age fraud is a very real problem and must be tackled to ensure the integrity and safety of youth competitions, but we need to eradicate it. There are serious concerns about the methods used to do so and the methods of et’o and fekafoot. acted recently.
An MRI scan of an athlete’s wrist has become a standard method for determining age in sports competition. The bones in that part of the body were fully fused after he was 17 years old, and only partially fused before that. This distinction can be obtained with high accuracy by scanning.
This means that the test method is not useful for determining age in older groups, such as under-21 or under-23 teams.
This method was first used in FIFAthe governing body of the world’s games, in 2009 has seen repeated instances of players being disqualified from tournaments.
Proponents claim the test is 99% accurate, but some are skeptical that the cut-off point (age 17) is too stringent — full fusion simply happens exactly on someone’s birthday. because it’s a step-by-step process, not around it That age — and some people, especially aspiring professional athletes, grow up much faster than others.
“So many factors[in practice]can cause minors to exceed the grade 5 MRI limit recommended by FIFA,” said Cameroonian journalist Ang Leslie. athletic“It’s not a hard and fast rule. There are so many exceptions.”
One player scored 2 (out of 5) on a test and was playing in an under-17 tournament but said he had to quit “because of the age on his passport”. he says
“MRI is not an accurate indicator of age fraud,” he says. “MRI is not 100% efficient.”
“In other European countries, we have seen young people much older than their age,” says Wanneh Giovanni. “(city of manchester6ft 4in — 194cm — 22 year old striker) Erling Harland, for example, some people simply grow up differently. ”
But even he admits that MRI is “the only viable option at the moment” — if used judiciously in combination with other sources of evidence.
African football specialist Gary Alsmith explains that the issue of age fraud is troubling in a part of football that is accustomed to stereotypes and disrespect.
“It’s sensitive and a big topic everywhere,” he says. athletic, A tongue-in-cheek “football Twitter” account, accustomed to making bone-chilling jokes, has clung to the topic of age fraud in a way that perpetuates racist stereotypes, he added.
“It’s a minor thing for the whole country and the whole continent,” Al-Smith said, adding that although he is Ghanaian, not Cameroonian, he has received offensive comments on the matter recently. .
In 2005, David Moyes Everton The manager at the time was criticized for saying about striker Jakub:
Of course, the former Cameroon international Eto’o has spent most of his playing career at the top of the European game and is said to be passionate about combating negative stereotypes of African football. of social media.
In October, French news agency RFI reported that Cameroon had hired a witch doctor to prepare for the World Cup starting next month. The article infuriated Eto’o, who said it was completely false and perpetuated offensive stereotypes.
—Fecafoot-Officiel (@FecafootOfficie) October 8, 2022
However, Eto’o’s public disclosure and drastic method of dealing with failing tests has been criticized.
This has divided Cameroonian football and many believe the issue could have been “handled more diplomatically”.
“The country is very divided because some people think Samuel Eto’o and the FA did the right thing,” he said.
In previous cases, however, the federation only published the list of those who passed the exam, protecting those who failed from public humiliation.
(Samuel Eto’o at the World Cup. Photo: Stephen McCarthy – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)