Age fabrication has been a long time practice in football. In fact, its popularity has earned it the title “Football Age” among mostly African football lovers.
In football, age fabrication occurs when a professional footballer claims an age other than his actual age. And often, many players deny their original ages to claim lower ages.
Since the nineties, there have been many cases of age fraud which have cost some footballers their careers, and even teams their places in competitions. A good instance is when FIFA banned Nigeria’s youth national team in 1989. The team had fielded over-age players for the FIFA’s supposed youth tournament. Asides the ban, Nigeria consequently lost its right to host the 1991 FIFA World Youth Championship.
A similar situation can be said of Guinea’s under-17 national team which lost its place in the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup after falsification of the age of two players, Aboubacar Conte and Ahmed Tidiane Keita were both discovered at the 2019 Africa under-17 Cup of Nations to have reduced their actual age.
As it is, age fabrication is pervasive among footballers such that, despite clear physical maturity, over 30-year-old players are being referred to, with expressions like “…the 18-year-old…” “….a 16-year-old footballer…” and others. However, in the age of information disorder, age falsification among footballers is also a sort of disinformation since it is deliberately intended to mislead members of the public.
Recently, there was a controversy over the age of Vincent Aboubakar that triggered diverse reactions from Facebook users. On February 15, a Facebook page – “Robert Mugabe Quotes” made a post that generated over 31k reactions and over 1k shares.
The caption attached to a stadium picture, where the Cameroonian football star was seen carrying a boy said to be his son, claimed the footballer to be 21 years old. Despite the clear picture, it also described the boy as a three-week old making another Facebook user named “Stan Feddy Moitshoki” to comment that “footballers reduce their age,” and “the same applies to their children.”
In another post Fele DoGood Samson had in January, claimed Aboubakar not to be “23” but “53″ according to his “Eagle Eye Technologies.”
Football age: why the lie?
“Age” and “football” have a symbiotic relationship. This is established by Ayeni Ayodeji, a sport expert who has been into professional football coaching for twelve years. Approaching the subject from the economic right of players, he said, “players who start early are easily sellable” to international clubs than the aged players. And aside from that, the “career span and durability” of a player solely depends on how old he is.
Finidi George, the coach of Enyimba FC and a former Super eagles player, also supported this. He laid emphasis on the importance of playing with real age in order to avoid quick retirement: “When a player uses another age and time comes to be at your best, you’ll be dwindling because age is not on your side,” he told DUBAWA in an interview.
However, that many players falsify age, especially in Africa, is not without reasons. Mr George added, “Some players are not using real age because of their intentions to play somewhere young players are needed.”
But Finidi’s view was unlike Ayeni’s, who sees poverty as the major cause.
“When a player has a poor background, he is desperate to get things done for the betterment of himself and his family. If peradventure they’re looking for an underage player that needs to be transferred and you know that, that opportunity can slip away or will slip away from you and to get another one is going to be difficult, you might decide to say yes, you’re this of age, you’re that of age,” he explained.
“And because of poverty, even the parents falsify the age of their ward because there’s no proper record,” he added.
Aside from poverty being a cause, Ayeni and George doubt the possibility of curbing age falsification among Nigerian footballers: “We don’t even have a database system where people’s data could be found from birth to death.”
Football-age and information disorder
Information disorder is the sharing of false information with or without the intent of misleading the public. When unintentional, it is misinformation, and when deliberate, it is disinformation. Therefore, the intentional forging of age by some professional soccer players is disinformation, since the act is deliberately engineered to mislead the public into believing a false account of their age.
Consequently, these tactics, initiated by professional football players, not only mislead the team or club they are signing into (since the club is signing based on the false age, they may not get a full premium for their money) while also misleading the fans and eventually, limiting the ethical integrity of the game.
In 2009, this turn of events led the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) to introduce the mandatory use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for the FIFA U-17 World Cup to help find out whether players are over age.
The MRI results are considered 99% accurate until the age of 17, after which it becomes harder for medical professionals to calculate a person’s age.
Nonetheless, the issue is very prominent amongst football fans; multiple pictures of footballers are now spread with an acclaimed age that seems outlandish. This signals the reality that the end to age forgery may be a long way from now.