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Cosafa strict on Under-17 age-screening

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Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) has cautioned national teams— including Malawi—that will participate in next month’s Cosafa Under-17 Championship in Mauritius that their players will be subjected to a rigorous age-screening exercise.

Cosafa Vice Secretary General, Suzgo Nyirenda, over the weekend confirmed that the task of screening players’ ages will no longer be entrusted in member associations such as Football Association of Malawi (Fam).

“I would like to tell Malawians that this year— this is the same message that we are putting across to all 12 participating countries—it will be different. This is a zonal qualifier. Caf [Confederation of African Football] has come up with a different mode of qualification. The team that will win this tournament will qualify and represent the Cosafa region in the 2019 Caf Under-17 Championship which will take place in Tanzania from May 12 to 26.

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“We are not asking countries to do mandatory MRI [Magnetic Resonance Imaging] where they have to test all their players. They were coming up with certificates to show that MRI was done. If Malawi will bring players who are older, be reminded that those players will be sent back. Malawi will not have a chance to replace them. I don’t expect Malawi to use 11 players only in the case that nine have been sent back home. It would be shameful for teams to bring people who are above 17 years. We want to develop football in this region by ensuring that we have proper under-17s. We have Caf doctors. We have Uefa who are supporting us. We have five clinics in Mauritius that will take care of this,” Nyirenda said on Saturday in South Africa.

MRI measures bones of a player’s wrist to ascertain one’s age. It has been proven scientifically that every bone in the limbs has an end plate from which bones grow. This plate disappears when growth is completed usually at around 17 years; hence, MRI is invisible when MRI scans are done on over-aged players.

Malawi, bronze winners in back-to-back Cosafa editions, were thrown into Group C comprising Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Angola for the championship that will run from July 19 to 29.

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Malawi Coach, Deklerk Msakakuona, has since started his player-selection exercise. Msakakuona yesterday said he was busy when called for a comment on the age-vetting process.

Football Association of Malawi Technical Director, John Kaputa, yesterday said he was aware of the tight screening of the ages at the Mauritius event.

“We wouldn’t want to take a risk so we wish we had funds to ensure that players are tested in Malawi before we go to Mauritius because we have the facilities. It would be embarrassing to take an over-aged player who would be sent back home. We did this before the Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria in 2009. Two players were found over-aged here at home and the ones we took to Nigeria passed the test,” Kaputa said.

Limited time for preparations and quest for quick results so as to serve jobs prompt some football officials and coaches to encourage their players to falsify their ages. Most players reduce their ages by three years.

Zambia are the defending champions of the competition. Zambia are in Group B comprising South Africa, Lesotho and Mozambique whereas Group A comprises Mauritius, Botswana, Namibia and Seychelles.

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