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The age cheating joke

I have watched some of the current Under-20 World Cup taking place in Turkey and I am underwhelmed by it all. Again.

I am actually appalled at how African nations seem to have destroyed the reasoning behind the competition.

When Joao Havelange established this tournament, the chief aim was to prepare young players for the major tournament of the Fifa World Cup. The players were expected to learn at an early age the rigours of international tournament.

For me, African teams have destroyed these lofty ideals and the worst part is that the joke is on us but we do not know it.

When Holland won Euro 88 they had eight of the players who had laboured to a nil nil scoreline against Nigeria five years earlier at the Fifa World Youth Championships (WYC).

When Brazil won the World Cup in 1994, their winning captain had been in the team that had battered Nigeria at that same Mexico WYC.

I have a DVD of Fifa celebrating the many youth tournaments and it was quite scary how many of the regular footballers we see now who actually played in them. What is scarier is that the longevity the tournament brings is rarely ever seen in African players.

I make no apologies about my views because I am unapologetic in my desire to see African teams make consistent assault on the Fifa World Cup. It is not enough to get faint praise from European journalists for our efforts at the four year event. We should be making such efforts that our representatives be seen as potential semifinalists at least.

After watching some of the matches in this tournament, a friend of mine described it thus: "African teams’ participation at these tournaments is nothing but a recurrent sick joke.” I totally agree with him.

I am more disappointed in journalists from Africa who should know better but are busy celebrating such myopic successes. As far back as 1993, when I used to produce a weekly football TV programme in Nigeria, we used one episode to lash out at the blatant cheating in the Under 17 World Cup. We pointed out that as a country we end up cheating ourselves.

It is utterly disgraceful of sports administrators in Africa to adopt a win-at-all-costs mentality. It is almost impossible to find a teenager to be playing in a national league side in Nigeria. I use Nigeria but this could apply across the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. The football league system is incredibly tough and only men eventually rise to the surface to play for the local clubs.

It then makes it utterly farcical to have players who have played at least three years for their club sides in the top league appearing at Under-17 and Under-20 tournaments across the continent. Any player or players who have played at age group competitions should be able to give their countries a minimum of 11 years of service and that is with injuries. If they have been lucky with injuries, then that should be closer to 15 years.

The sports administrators should take the lion’s share of the blame for this. They saddle their coaches with the burden to deliver and the coaches in turn believe they can cut every corner possible to get a result.

There are no thriving school sports festivals and no thriving academies that take children within their right ages. So, it is almost impossible to bring out genuine players for the age-grade tournaments.

When I was much younger and did not know what I know I celebrated these tournaments. Now I do not. Is it a coincidence that teams from Africa tend to finish strongly in these tournaments?

Reducing ages so as to get good contracts abroad is not a good enough excuse. In my view it is a pathetic one and one that should be swatted aside with the disdain it deserves.

Europeans are very much aware of our game and they even crack jokes about it. Who can forget when then Everton manager said, on LIVE TV, that "Yakubu is 25 but a Nigerian 25”. Fifa are aware but can do very little about it, at least at Under-20 level. At Under-17 they have introduced MRI bone scans.

African journalists need to start exposing these things for the greater good of our national teams. Nothing else matters in football apart from the World Cup and then the continental national championship, our Afcon.

You will not find me lauding any supposed achievements at this or any age group tournaments.

You can agree or disagree with me here and on Twitter @CalvinEmeka

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