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.
One of the best known examples of a player falsifying documentations is Cameroon's 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 Nigeria's 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 player's 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 Sani's 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 don't see Nigerian football getting out of the quagmire, the problem it is in today is because it [corruption] is getting deeper and deeper and deeper. From time to time we get flashes where we do well in some competition with overage players and we celebrate. That was one of the issues I looked at, we can't keep using overage players. 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. When you cheat, you deprive the young stars that are supposed to play in these competitions their rights."
Anthony Kojo Williams, NFF Chairman, 1999-2000.
In 2003, Kenya's Under-17 national team were dissolved by the Kenyan Government after some players revealed themselves to be over 18 years of age.The same year, Ghana's Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Joe Aggrey said he wished to stop age cheats.
In 2009, Nigerian journalist Adokiye Amiesimaka accused the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) of being complicit with age-cheats because it gave the nation a competitive advantage. He had what he considered to be proof that some players were overage but the NFF were not interested in taking his complaint seriously.
In December 2010, the Senegal Football Federation withdrew Diawandou Diagne, Hervé Diédhiou and Samba Diallo from their under-17 national team after it was found they were overage following an MRI scan.
In February 2011, Ivorian football manager and SuperSport television pundit Mamadou Gaye responded to a question asking who he thought would win the 2011 U-17 World Cup with "...any of the four team representing us [Africa] in the world cup U17 can win the trophee (sic), because at that level we like cheating on our age."
In May 2019, Guinea's 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.
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.
Dave Bowler, author of Winning Isn't 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.
In the scandal known as the Cachirules, all of Mexico's 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 Júnior 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 Ángel 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.
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.
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 person's age. Professor Jiri Dvorak of FIFA said: "The efficiency stops at 17 and it's 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:
|Grade||Comment||Eligibility for U16/U17 tournament|
|1||Completely unfused (physis may be thin)||Player eligible|
|2||Early fusion: minimal hyper intensity within physis|
|3||Trabecular fusion of less than 50% of radial cross-sectional area (number of sections (full width) with fusion below 50%)|
|4||Trabecular fusion of more than 50% of radial cross-sectional area (number of sections (full width) above 50%) or more than 5 mm non-fused on any one section|
|5||Residual physis, less than 5 mm on any one section|
|6||Completely fused||Player not eligible|
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. Nigeria's 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 we're following suit. We're no longer in the analogue era."
Lulu stated that NFF did not need to scan players as it wasn't in the competition's rules and regulations. Ndanusa stated: "FIFA wants MRI scans used and we're 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 U17's.
The Confederation of African Football or CAF is the administrative and controlling body for African association football.
The Nigeria national football team, also known as the Super Eagles, represents Nigeria in men's international football and it's controlled by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). They are three-time Africa Cup of Nations winners, with their most recent title in 2013, after defeating Burkina Faso in the final. The Super Eagles are considered the greatest African football team of all time due to their numerous achievements and records and The team represents both FIFA and Confederation of African Football (CAF).
The FIFA U-20 World Cup is the biennial football world championship for male players under the age of 20, organised by FIFA. The competition has been staged every two years since the first tournament in 1977 held in Tunisia. Until 2005 it was known as the FIFA World Youth Championship. The current champion is Ukraine, which won its first title at the 2019 tournament in Poland.
The FIFA U-17 World Cup, founded as the FIFA U-16 World Championship, later changed to U-17 in 1991 and to its current name in 2007, is the world championship of association football for male players under the age of 17 organized by Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The current champion is Brazil, which won its fourth title at the 2019 tournament on home soil.
Samson Siasia is a Nigerian former football striker and the former head coach of the Nigerian Men's National football team from 2010 to October 2011. He was reappointed in 2016.
Stephen Okechukwu Keshi was a Nigerian football defender and manager.
The Nigeria national women's football team, nicknamed the Super Falcons, represents Nigeria in international women's football and is controlled by the Nigeria Football Federation. The team is by far Africa's most successful international women's football team winning a record eleven Africa Women Cup of Nations titles, with their most recent title in 2018, after defeating South Africa in the final. The team is also the only women's national team from the Confederation of African Football to have reached the quarterfinals in both the FIFA Women's World Cup and Football at the Summer Olympics.
The OFC U-16 Championship is a biennial football tournament for players under the age of 16. The tournament decides the only two qualification spots for the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) and its representatives at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, which is held every two years.
The Nigeria national U-17 football team known as the Golden Eaglets, is the youngest team that represents Nigeria in football The team is the most successful in international football for their age group winning a record, five FIFA U-17 World Cup titiles and are runners up on three different occasions. They are also two-time Africa U-17 Cup of Nations champions with their most recent title at the 2007 edition.
Ahmed Musa is a Nigerian professional footballer who plays as a forward and left winger for Saudi Arabian team Al-Nassr and the Nigeria national team.
The 2011 African Youth Championship was a football tournament for the Under-20 level national teams in Africa. It was due to be held in Libya from 18 March to 1 April. Following political unrest in the region, CAF decided to postpone the tournament, before deciding that South Africa would be the new hosts, with games taking place between 17 April and 2 May.
The Algeria national under-23 football team represents Algeria in international football competitions including the Olympic Games. The selection is limited to players under the age of 23, except during the Olympic Games where the use of three overage players is allowed. The team is controlled by the Algerian Football Federation.
Zambia women's national under-17 football team, nicknamed the Junior She-polopolo, represents the country in international under-17 matches. The team has participated in FIFA sanctioned events, including U-17 World Cup qualifiers.
The 2013 African U-17 Championship was a football competition organized by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). The tournament took place in Morocco from 13 to 27 April. The top four teams qualified for the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
The association football tournament at the 2016 Summer Olympics was held from 3 to 20 August in Brazil.
The Nepal national under-17 football team is the under-17 football team of Nepal. The team is controlled by the All Nepal Football Association and is a member of the Asian Football Confederation.
The 2015 African U-17 Championship was the 11th edition of the biennial international youth football tournament organized by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for players aged 17 and below. The tournament took place in Niamey, Niger, and was originally scheduled to be held between 2 and 16 May. However, the date of the opening match was pushed forward to 15 February, with the tournament scheduled to conclude with the final on 1 March.
The men's football tournament at the 2020 Summer Olympics will be held from 23 July to 8 August 2020. It will be the 27th edition of the men's Olympic football tournament. Together with the women's competition, the 2020 Summer Olympics football tournament will be held in six cities in Japan, including Olympic host city Tokyo. The final will be hosted at the International Stadium Yokohama. Teams participating in the men's competition are restricted to under-23 players with a maximum of three overage players allowed.
The 2019 Africa U-17 Cup of Nations was the 13th edition of the Africa U-17 Cup of Nations, the biennial international youth football tournament organized by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for players aged 17 and below. In May 2015, it was decided that the tournament would be hosted by Tanzania.
The Senegal National Under-17 Football Team, represents Senegal in international football at an under-17 level and is controlled by the Fédération Sénégalaise de Football. The team's first appearance on the continental stage was in 2011 at the 2011 African U-17 Championship. Senegal will make their first appearance at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2019 in Brazil after Guinea was disqualified for fielding two overage players.