THE age-old debate around age fraud in sport resurfaced again this week following the unfortunate incidents witnessed during the inaugural Marvelous Nakamba Under-17 football tournament in Bulawayo.
Dynamos, the biggest football club in the country, were at the centre of the storm following accusations that they fielded an over-aged player in the games.
The Harare giants were embarrassed after they were disqualified from participating in the knockout rounds, despite having finished top of their group with a 100 percent winning record.
Stakeholders roundly condemned the act.
But the positive news from the club was the commitment made by their executive committee chairman Isaiah Mupfurutsa to conduct an internal enquiry to find out how the club ended up in such a disgraceful situation.
Mupfurutsa said the club was treating the matter with urgency.
Hopefully, Dynamos will follow up on their promise and the domestic football fraternity will obviously be keen to see the outcome of this inquiry.
If reports from the tournament are true, what was a 22-year-old doing in a tournament meant for players under the age of 17?
It boggles the mind.
But the exposé could just be a tip of the ice-berg.
Age fraud has been so rampant since time immemorial.
This unfortunate tradition has been passed from generation to generation in domestic football.
It’s a cancer that is prevalent at all levels of Zimbabwean football.
The tragedy is that there is no antidote in place.
There should be legislation to deal with this scourge.
In November 2020, Zimbabwe suffered the ignominy of being kicked out of the COSAFA Under-17 tournament after some players failed age tests.
It was so embarrassing at that stage, especially with football organisations now using advanced technologies to determine the age tests for eligibility of the participating players.
Cheating is rampant in African football, which probably explains why the continent does well in the youth tournaments at the global stage but fails to translate that success to senior team competitions.
In the past, teams would falsify birth records because Africa is pathetic at keeping records.
But these days the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) apparatus is now being employed as an equaliser.
The mandatory use of 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 percent accurate until the age of 17, after which it becomes harder for medical professionals to calculate a person’s age.
Age fraud has been defined as the use of false documentation to gain an advantage over opponents, usually by allowing players to compete in youth tournaments.
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.”
Others also fabricate “football ages” in order to facilitate moves abroad, where professional teams have affinity for younger players.
This is cheating!
Mostly West African nations have been found guilty of the transgression.
But closer home, Zimbabwe is rampant with stories of players that have been involved in such fabrications and some of them have used false names to the end of their professional careers.
There have been cases in which players were accused of using documents of their younger siblings to cheat their way into junior football tournaments while others have apparently connived with their guardians, coaches, teachers and even officials from the Registry department to alter birth records.
Greed and eagerness for immediate results to secure foreign moves unfairly has fuelled this pandemic over the years.
The most unfortunate part is that there are adults who dupe these unsuspecting children into committing such heinous acts of dishonesty.
This fraud is actually destroying future generations.
Remember these children are the leaders of tomorrow and when we initiate them into cheating at that young age we are only raising a corrupt generation, devoid of any morals.
Several organisations, including the Sports Leaders Institute of Zimbabwe (SLIZ), have come up to preach the gospel of integrity in sport.
SLIZ holds autumn, winter and summer camps to try and conscientise stakeholders on the demerits of unfair practices, especially at junior level.
Grassroots football proponent Moses Chunga this week also spoke strongly against this corrupt practice.
Age fraud is destroying football development.
It makes tournaments useless and kills the spirit of fair competition.
Those over-aged culprits are actually blocking the development path for deserving candidates.
After all they have their category, why not let them play in the Under-20s or Under-23s where their ages fit?
What is the point of a 17-year-old competing in a tournament where the opposing team has players way over that age-group?
Clubs need to field players of the right age in junior tournaments if the country is to do well in international tournaments.
In that vein, Zimbabwean sports administrators and relevant authorities need a serious talk about this while we wait for relevant laws to be passed.
The Zimbabwe Sport Integrity Bill touches on most of these ills and once passed into law it could address the challenge once and for all.