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U-17: Probe use of overaged players – Aturu

Human Rights lawyer and social critic, Bamidele Aturu has added his voice to the debate on the use of over-aged players for age grade competitions.

As a result therefore, he has called on the government to probe the recent allegation that overaged players were fielded in the U-17 national team which participated in the recently concluded U-17 World Cup which the country hosted. Produced under is his views posted to Saturday Vanguard.

Our government is directly charged with the superintendence of sports development in the country. It certainly must be aware of the allegation serially and comprehensively published in the media that some of the players fielded by Nigeria in the just concluded FIFA Under-17 Football Championship were overage at the time of the competition.

To claim ignorance of this allegation in itself would be an unpardonable act of insensitivity. For the avoidance of any doubt the main gist of the embarrassing allegation is that a number, if not all, of our players were above 17 years contrary to the fundamental requirement for participating in the championship.

In particular, the captain of our team is said to be not less than 26 years of age having claimed to be 18 years about 8 years ago when he joined the feeder team of Sharks FC. This allegation is even backed up by a photograph of the said feeder team that has turned sepia with age.

I have sighted an electronic copy of the photograph and from my layman’s perspective there is little difference in the physique of the ‘boy’ then and now.

Many Nigerians were shattered that when this allegation first appeared rather than investigate the authenticity or otherwise of the claim, our sports officials resorted, irresponsibly without doubt, to castigating and maligning the patriot who volunteered the information.

This attitude showed that it might be that our sports officials had information that was shielded from the public domain. Whatever such information might be now that the competition is over it is time to declassify it.

Now if the information is to the effect that the boys were within the FIFA age-range for the tournament there would no longer be any problem. But if the information confirms the allegation, then obviously our sports officials might have explanations to make.

The time has come for all Nigerians who are interested in the growth of football in this country and who derive enormous pleasure from watching the game to demand that the Government which advertises itself as a great defender of the rule of law and prosecutor of the war against corruption cause a Commission of Inquiry or Judicial Panel to be instituted as soon as possible into the allegation that we fielded overage players for the championship in question.

I hereby make the demand. The purpose would be to get to the root of matter and fish out for instant prosecution and eventual punishment whoever might be remotely connected with age falsification, if any, among the officials in particular.

Many Nigerians lost interest in the championship immediately the allegation emerged. Silence on the part of the Sports Ministry and the NFF at that point was not golden but exasperating. It makes no sense issuing a declaration as I understand has been done that all members of the team automatically move to the Under-20 team when there is a question mark on their ages.

How are we sure that these boys should not be drafted into the senior National team?  Certainly, we cannot run sports this way and claim that we are serious a whit.

The Federal Executive Council should not treat the demand for probe with levity, otherwise coalitions of Nigerians who hate corruption and cheating in sports will constantly put this matter in the front burner of public discourse. On the face of it, it appears that certain infringements of our penal codes have been committed by sports administrators that may justify the intervention of anti-corruption agencies.

Before we get to that bridge government should seize the opportunity of the call for probe to act administratively and fast. Let no one be mistaken, this demand will not be abandoned until something is done. Cheating in sports is but a variant of corruption. It is wishful thinking to expect those who cheat in sports not to steal public funds. This is why this demand will be pursued with vigour.


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