ENITAN OBADINA / AIPS* in DUBAI: The over-age allegations by the hosts of the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 have thrown a vexed old issue back into the spotlight.

Nigeria, one of the most outstanding teams at the tournament but a country with a questionable record, omitted nine possible players who had failed MRI wrist scan checks this summer.

Kelechi Iheanacho: goalscorer with a track record

Shadows over Nigerian players is nothing new. In 2009, when Nigeria were hosts, controversy arose over captain Fortune Chukwudi. A local newspaper reported that his age had been falsified but the claim was rejected by FIFA since he had passed a magnetic resonance imaging test.

The test works by scanning the wrist plate of the players, using their bone development to ascertain their age. Levels one to five of the scan are eligible to play in the FIFA U-17 world cup.

Permitted limit

The current Nigerian juniors undertook the African U-17 championships in Morocco with 18 players instead of the permitted 21 after three players – Ibrahim Abdullahi, Emmanuel Asadu and Onyinye Ndidi – failed the test.

After finishing runners-up, the squad underwent further trims after more players failed the MRI. That left the coaching team with a nine-player gap to fill.

The general opinion in Nigeria is that the current squad boast of true U-17 players because, for the first time for many years, the ages of the players can be checked from earlier stages of their developments.

Kelechi Iheanacho, the four-goal hero thus far in UAE, is just one player who has featured in the set-up from the U-13 category.

Despite the protest by the United Arab Emirates’ coach Rached Albedwawi at the weekend, FIFA says no complaint has been received about players breaching the age limit regulations.

Albedwawi complained long and loud after the hosts’ 6-1 thrashing by Brazil in Abu Dhabi in Group A; earlier UAE had lost 2-1 to Honduras and are virtually eliminated with one game remaining.

A FIFA spokeperson said: “Since the final competition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 started, the Disciplinary Committee has not received any official complaints in the regard of players exceeding the age limit.

Random selection

“In order to protect the integrity of the tournament and in the spirit of fair play, FIFA has conducted MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the wrist prior to the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013.

“Four randomly selected players per team have been tested in the UAE under the supervision of FIFA’s medical experts.”

FIFA introduced use wrist scans to determine the age of players at the 2009 Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria after concerns that up to 35pc of players in previous tournaments had infringed the regulations.

A statement on the use of wrist scans said the system had been introduced to meet FIFA’s responsibility “to ensure a level playing field for all players and teams participating in FIFA competitions.”

A statement added: ” Over-age players may have not only an unfair advantage over players of the correct chronological age due to their greater physical maturity, but possibly the difference of age and degree of maturity may result in increased risk of injuries.”

Wrist scans were preferable to X-rays because of concerns about exposing young people to radiation.

Fusion assessment

It added: “The growth plates of the bones of the human skeleton are open during growth, and close at different times with increasing age and maturity.

“F-MARC [FIFA’s medical advisory department] performed MRI wrist scans of hundreds football players of different ethnical origin aged between 14 and 19 and developed a grading system for the fusion of the growth plate. It was established that in a normal population complete fusion is very unlikely to occur prior to 17 years of age.

“MRI of the wrist is a simple, reliable, valid and non-invasive method for age determination in 14–19 year-old male football players. The method is able to identify over-age players at U-17 competitions at no risk to the individual.”

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* AIPS, the international sports journalists association, is running a Young Reporters course at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 with the support of the local organising committee and FIFA

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