Africa’s Age-Testing Saga Must Be A ‘Watershed Moment’ For Global Sport



Africa's age-testing saga must be a 'watershed moment' for global sport

Dr Adam Hawkey urges caution over how MRI results are used in sport to determine age

It is an issue that has overshadowed African football for many years – but even so, the recent age-testing furore surrounding regional qualifiers for this year’s Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations contained a hint of farce.

Ahead of a scheduled five-team tournament in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo were forced to pull out at the last minute after 25 of 40 players were judged to be overage following Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans.

Chad at least made it to Cameroon before being disqualified by in-tournament testing, while the hosts were forced to dismiss more than 30 potential players who failed pre-tournament tests ordered by Samuel Eto’o, the former Barcelona and Inter Milan striker who is now president of the country’s football federation (Fecafoot).

But speaking to BBC Sport Africa, a leading sports scientist, who has advised national football associations around the world, has questioned the one-size-fits-all application of the age-defining biomarkers provided by the tests, stating the saga must be a “watershed moment”.

“What’s being measured by the MRI might not be the most accurate way of measuring that individual’s age,” said Dr Adam Hawkey, associate professor of sport science and human performance at Solent University Southampton.

“Unless you’re conducting regular measurements of an individual, at designated ages that you can prove, and having that data amassed over a period of time, then their biomarkers (may) show, in terms of the data that’s available, that they are older.

“Interventions need to be put in place to understand that individual as a person, not just as a sports performer.

“There are some issues and there are sympathies with some of those players that may well be 17 – but also some appreciation of the work that’s being done to make the sport fairer,” he added.

“We have to make sure that if we’re using these measures to exclude players then they’re as accurate as possible.”

Dr Hawkey is not the first person to question the tests – in 2013 Abuchi Obinwa was ruled out of a Nigerian under-17 side by an MRI despite having all the relevant documentation from the USA to prove his age.

How the test works

Football’s world governing body, Fifa, introduced MRI scans at the 2009 Under-17 World Cup which took place in Nigeria.

That decision followed years of accusations and allegations directed at African youth football.

MRI scans use magnetic fields and radio waves to penetrate the skin, allowing medical professionals to see things like bone and organs underneath.

In this instance, the MRI looks at the bones in a player’s wrist, searching for biomarkers that are produced, with the most common one used to distinguish between age groups being the rate of fusion between the bone and its cartilage, a strong, flexible tissue that sits in joints to add a layer of protection.

Source – BBC Sports




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