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Published: Wednesday January 9, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday April 22, 2013 MYT 5:05:47 PM

AFC uses technology to identify overaged players in U-16 tourneys

THE Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has been successful in their fight against overaged players being fielded in Under-16 tournaments with the introduction of the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

AFC medical committee chairman Datuk Dr Gurucharan Singh said the use of X-ray was outdated and not applicable.

“The problem has almost been solved with the introduction of modern radiological tools such as the MRI. If a player’s MRI scan shows complete fusion of the radial bone growth plate by three independent experts, he is deemed to be above 16 and is not eligible to participate in the tournament and the member association is sanctioned.

“Based on several studies conducted in football, the incidence of having a player with complete fusion between the ages of 16 to 17 is less than 1%. MRI protocol established by a consensus of international experts from 13 countries is designed specifically to be used in football for male players.

“However, it cannot be used for women as they mature early,” Dr Gurucharan said.

Fielding overaged players in sports has been a common problem that has gone unabated to date, especially in age-related competitions. There had been more questions and challenges than solutions to keep the sport clean.

Intentional falsification of travel documents or birth certificates, though not always the case, had tarnished the image of some of these tournaments.

“This is against the spirit of sport and the right of players to equal chances, not taking into account the rate of injuries as well as psychological trauma the players endure,” Dr Gurucharan said.

He added that it was also ironic to discover all players from a particular team born in the month of January, some with running serial numbers while other players have been caught participating in the same tournament for a couple of years, sometimes using false identities.

Dr Gurucharan said there had been reported cases of players from certain countries having two sets of travel documents. It has got to do with fame and glory, financial rewards and sometimes politically driven.

With the advent of electronic technology and the establishment of an international registration data base, administrators have now been able to curtail these malpractices to some extent.

The AFC has been credited with bringing cheating in football to a virtual stop.

“It had been no easy task to convince the administrators and the football medicine fraternity,” said Dr Gurucharan, who is also a member of the FIFA medical committee.

Prior to the first Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) held an expert consensus group meeting to find a scientific mechanism to determine the age of athletes with no success. The eligible age for athletes at the Youth Olympic Games is from 14 to 18 years old.

Data collected from competitions, such as the FIFA Under-17 Finals showed about 35% while Africa had reported more than 21% incidence of overaged players, respectively.

The percentage of incidence has drastically dropped since the introduction of MRI for age determination. In 2007, AFC introduced the use of MRI scanning for age determination at all AFC Under-16 tournaments. The incidence of overaged players has dropped to 0.5% and, in some years (2010 and 2012), zero.

Dr Gurucharan said the outcome seemed to be successful but AFC would not let its guard down.

“The AFC annually conducts MRI workshops for radiologists to assist member associations. Some 22 of the 46 member associations in Asia have benefited from this educational programme.

“Scientists are currently trying to further improve the technology and develop a protocol that could be used by all — in sports, criminal and legal situations. It is just a matter of time,” said Dr Gurucharan.

Tags / Keywords: Community, News, Sport, AFC MRI

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