Tired with local footballers’ age-cheating? Just wait for their funerals. It appears the only time the public gets to know footballers’ actual years of birth is, sadly, during their funerals when preachers reveal such personal profiles.
Of late, funerals of former and current footballers have sparked debate following revelations of actual years of birth by church leaders. Most churches record their flocks’ date of birth.
In view of this, Football Association of Malawi (Fam) Technical Director, John Kaputa, has suggested that church records could offer a solution to age-cheating when selecting junior national football team players.
Kaputa was responding to a question on what his office would do to ensure that players bound for the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) Under-17 Championship in Mauritius next month are of the right age group.
Recently, Cosafa secretariat, through Vice-General Secretary, Suzgo Nyirenda, cautioned all 12 participating teams, including Malawi, bound for Mauritius that there would be a rigorous age screening exercise using Magnetic Reasonance Imaging (MRI) and a team would not be allowed to replace age cheaters.
In reaction, Kaputa said: “It would be expensive flying players to Mauritius only for them to be sent back because they are over-aged. I appeal to all coaches entrusted with player-selection that they must get true ages from parents and churches.
“There are certain churches which record one’s date of birth. To some extent, information from other sources such as schools is not helpful. There are cases when it differs from that of churches.”
Kaputa said his office would also scout for players from the Fifa/Fam under-15 league.
“My plea to football players is that they should respect and honour the date they were born. People should not change the date they were born. They should respect their Creator,” he said.
But National Youth Football Association Chairperson, Chimango Munthali, said while church records are reliable, there was need to screen players through MRI locally before travelling to Mauritius.
“Which church and how many players have church records? The best we can do is for us to accept the expense of taking our final squad for MRI internally after the initial vetting that is based on appearance and supporting documents.
“All this is short-term. We need to invest in a long-term process to support record keeping and, Mr [Gomezgani] Zakazaka [Fam Competitions Manager] has made some progress on this. Let us support the implementation of Fifa Connect,” Munthali said.
He hailed Cosafa for the tough stance on age-cheating, saying teams that field over-aged players in Southern Africa undermined their own progress in international competitions.
Malawi Schools Sports Association General Secretary, Blackson Malamula, said they have correct records of all under-17 players.
“They [Fam] can get the records from the churches. It is their mandate to select under-17 players. But we have records of all learners from standard one to form three. It is just a question of checking with district education managers. It is not possible for a form four learner to be under-17 because in public schools, children start standard one at around the age of six,” Malamula said.
The under-17, which won bronze medals in 2016 and 2017, is in group C alongside Angola, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
The champion will qualify for the Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Tanzania next year.