Stolen Dreams

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar May 14, 2019 20:35


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Stolen Dreams

By Satish Sekar in Dar es Salaam © Satish Sekar (April 30th)


Cameroun won the Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations after accusations of age cheating just before it started and before the semi-finals. On the eve of Tanzania’s tournament three players were banned from Libih’s squad – they had failed MRI tests. A Guinean and two Tanzanians failed too, or had MRI failed them.

It’s not fool-proof. There are six stages of development of the wrist bones. FIFA wanted a test to tackle the issue of age cheating – the bane of youth football. That’s understandable, but MRI scans are not fool-proof. It is claimed to be 99% accurate.

Tanzania’s under fire coach, Oscar Mirambo, says that is not good enough, and he should know. His team went out in the first round, having conceded 12 goals. Mirambo was a teacher. He knows how boys develop. He was convinced that age cheating occurred in the recently concluded tournament, but also that something strange occurred.

There was a tournament in Turkey a month before the Under-17 AFCON All eight African teams took part. Five players passed MRI scans for the Turkish event – the Guinean twice after it concluded. All of them were at least two stages below the crucial Stage 6 in those tests, yet, they were stage 6 for Tanzania. How is that possible?

MRI scanning is not an elixir that catches age-cheats. Stage 6 can occur anywhere from 16-18. It is therefore possible that a 16-year-old can fail and 18-year-old pass, and then there’s the perceptions of the reviewer of the scan – it can vary.


Libih tells an interesting tale. He was the assistant coach of Cameroun two years ago. A pair of brothers went through his academy and were selected for the squad for that year’s AFCON. He knew the parents and was convinced that the brothers were legitimate. The younger one failed and the elder passed.

Libih confirmed that the brothers were in fact twins!

And Mirambo is concerned too. He lost two players. He is convinced that they were under 17. Of the tournament in Turkey he says, “One was Stage 3 and the other was Stage 4.”

And after they failed the MRI scans they left the squad and went back to school. This is crucial.

Dreams Stolen

Unlike the Camerounians and the Guinea, Tanzania has a water-tight case. Their two boys were failed by MRI scanning. They were not 17. Why am I so sure? Tanzanian law requires all children to register for school aged 7. It has been law since 2004. Every member of the Serengeti Boys squad was subject to it. What’s the point of faking age at 7?

And Tanzania’s case was devastating. One of the players banned was the first choice goal-keeper. Twelve goals conceded in three matches tells its story. The second-choice keeper had hardly played and the defence had hardly played with him. There was no confidence in each other – they found out they’d be without their starting keeper a day before the tournament started.

So, how far could the Serengeti Boys have gone?

“The final,” says Mirambo.

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar May 14, 2019 20:35