SCANDAL is brewing over the ages of our players, who  have been camped for two years in preparation for the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup, which Nigeria hosts in October. From the competition’s title, a player should not be up to 17 years old.

Nigerian authorities pretended they were acting in line with this provision until FIFA warned it would use MRI technology to detect age cheats. Countries that fielded over-aged players, would be sanctioned, FIFA warned.

It was FIFA’s threat that made the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to swing into belated action. There have been suspicions that most of the players in camp were over-aged. The NFF’s reaction had been angst that any Nigerian could make a suggestion that instantly brings the country to disrepute.

Nigerians are scandalised that 28 out of the 36 players have so far failed the MRI test. The result of the MRI depleted the national team prepared at great cost for the Championship and completely eroded any chances that Nigeria could get great results from the competition that it has dominated, winning thrice and finishing second once.

Suspicions that Nigeria could be violating the age group events have been favourite discussions among Nigerian journalists. The authorities have an attitude of ignoring the views often expressed that players of that age are most likely to be in secondary schools instead of university graduates and some married men, whose affiliations have produced children, some older than six years.

The very idea of using players in the national leagues for the competition, and the inclusion of some players who are making their marks in foreign leagues have added to the slurs that have attended performances at this level.

For a country that holds its image dear, the scandal of the failure to have the right players in the camp for a competition we are hosting should not be treated lightly. Who got these players into the camp? What were the bases for selecting the players? Were their ages ever considered? What documents were used to authenticate the ages of these players before scarce national resources were invested in them?

Is anyone ever going to accept responsibility for this scandal or are we to add it to the list of unattended scandals? The NFF is spending precious time explaining there was no scandal as none of the players failed the test.

The time between now and the Championship would be spent in explaining again that Nigeria needs a new team to do better at the competition.

Anyone involved in contriving  this effort that has exposed Nigeria to odium should be punished in a manner that would make others realise that national assignments, no matter in what sphere of our national life, should be handled in ways that would enhance the image of Nigeria.


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