IN the latest age-cheating scandal to hit local football, the Zimbabwe Under 17 soccer team will travel to the African Youth Championships in Algeria this month with almost a completely new team after the bulk of the players who played in the qualifiers withdrew before a testing device could determine their exact ages.
So precise is the pre-competition medical assessment kit that is has a variance of four days and even hours at times.
Just five players out of the 41 who were in camp have stayed on. The development could impel the teams beaten by Zimbabwe in the qualifiers to launch an appeal against the Young Warriorsâ€™ qualification â€” if they didnâ€™t cheat themselves.
Among those who have pulled out is captain Archieford Gutu. The crafty attacking midfielder is already a revered player at local premiership club Caps FC.
IndependentSport was told Thursday that Zifa has hastily assembled an improvised team for the Algiers trip containing schools players mainly from Churchill in Harare and Mzilikazi in Bulawayo.
â€œWe canâ€™t walk tall after winning a tournament when we would have won with over-aged players,â€ said a team official who requested anonymity.
â€œThis is a big scandal and those who masterminded this fraud must be sanctioned. At the very least I expect them to step aside on their own. There is no need for a witch-hunt.
â€œItâ€™s a sad day for Zimbabwean football. What this means is that weâ€™ve been investing in the wrong people for years. Under normal circumstances the sports ministry would demand a report from the national association. By faking age you deprive the genuinely young players of their deserved opportunities. By faking age you are not just doing injustice to the nation but to yourself.â€
Zifa chief executive Henrieta Rushwaya said Thursday her association had already started curbing age cheating by demanding playersâ€™ Grade 7 certificates.
â€œBirth certificates can be tampered with but Grade 7 certificates may not be way off from determining ages.â€
Age-cheating is not a new phenomenon in Zimbabwe where some players go to the extent of adopting the identities of their younger siblings by using birth registration documents belonging to them in order to make the grade.
BY ENOCK MUCHINJO