A lot has been said and written about age fabrication in sports especially in Football. Player’s birthdays rarely pass without mention in the media.
Cheating is evil in whatever form it takes. My concern here is about age fabrication, called ‘age fraud’ in football, and Rwanda has been no exception.
The issue of players lying about their age exploded in the public arena again.
This Friday May 10, the media was full of stories about the birthday of former national Amavubi defender, and APR FC player Ismail Nshutinamagara a.k.a Kodo.
We are going to explore age fraud in Rwandan football, why it is done and what is being done to combat it.
There is no secret about ‘age lying. It is in different sports disciplines on the continent. In countries like Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya – the issue is widely reported.
In April 2013, nine players were excluded from the African under-17 Championship in Morocco after a mandatory Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) wrist scans showed they were above the age limit.
Two years earlier in 2015, a staggering 26 members of Nigeria’s under-17 side failed an age test carried out ahead of an African Cup of Nations qualifier.
A mandatory MRI screening of the squad revealed almost half were ineligible to play.
Back to Rwanda’s Kodo, the former AS Kigali defender played a huge role both at the national club level. He captained the military side APR to a 14th trophy record.
The player did retire, and currently works with his former club AS Kigali club as the assistant head coach.
What is interesting though. is that, while wishing him a happy birthday, some sports pundits and journalists could not hold their disapproval, affirming the ex-defender’s age is fabricated.
Some have called it an “epidemic in football”?
“If Kodo is that age, it means am seven years older than him. That cannot be true,” asserted Regis Muramira, a local sports commentator, adding: “Kodo, there is no problem with growing old.”
For football, age fraud occurs when players deliberately misrepresent their true age. It is intended to garner privilege or status which would not otherwise be available to the person.
Some other cases in Rwanda come up like former Rayon Sports and APR strike Bogota Labama Kamana. In comparison, Kodo is said to be a year older than his former teammate.
It alleged Bokota was born on April 6, 1985 in Kinshasa before he was naturalized to play for Amavubi.
It is a public secret that players like Bokota lied about their true age, just like other people willing to do whatever it takes to win.
The other player alleged to have lied about their age, is the national team captain Haruna Niyonzima who plays for Simba SC.
On record, his date of birth is February 5, 1990 in Gisenyi, which means he is 29 years old. Muhadjir Hakizimana his brother who plays for APR is 24-years.
Popular sports journalist Egide Niringiyimana, who is in his early 30s, claims he played football while Niyonzima was older than him.
Doubts have been raised about the age of APR’s current skipper Jean Baptiste Mugiraneza a.k.a Migi.
It is recorded that the central-midfielder was born on February 17, 1991 (age 28 years), according to official license records.
The implication is that, if Migi is that age, it means when his teammate Andrew Buteera aged 25 was featuring for Rwanda in the Under-17 World Cup held in Mexico in 2011, the skipper was born three years before the Genocide against the Tutsi.
In Africa, lying about age is a serious ethical issue especially in the youth teams. The problem cuts across the entire African continent and beyond.
At one time, Jose Mourinho once claimed that Cameroonian Samuel E’to is older than what he says he is.
Such accusations of age cheating have blighted talent success at international age group tournament in recent years.
So why do Africa players pretend to be younger than they actually are?
Sports paundit Jonathan Mbanza says its personal ambition. Football, he said, is now commercialized with a lot of money that alone has attracted many ways to cheat.
He added: “Lack of proper youth structures to monitor such behaviors, federations in Africa don’t have databases to track ages, that is why you find players have more than one birth certificate.”
Ultimately, Africa needs to play clean by fixing its house to make things better! National football association need not support such a program to track players from a young age.