Age cheating stalks African sport

GABORONE - African athletes have earned varying reputations over the years but one constant that has seemingly transcended through time is age-cheating.

This week, the issue raised its head again at the on-going Africa Youth Games here in Botswana’s capital where 52 African countries are battling for honours across 21 sporting disciplines.

At least 2 500 athletes from across the continent have converged in this landlocked southern African country.

Naturally personal ambition and pressure for success is high.

But what has created debate amongst athletes and officials is that there is no use of scientific methods to verify ages.

The only tool being used to prove age is a passport.

Sadly, in this age where the use of false documentation to gain an advantage over opponents is high, this is hardly a viable instrument.

It is against such a background that Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) president, Colonel Hamad Kalkaba Malboum feels more needs to be done to fight age-cheating.

“Personally I observed that for some of the athletes I looked at them and I see they are not the right age,” Malboum said.

“We have to sensitize the entourage of the athletes. A child cannot change the age himself. We are trying a lot of options maybe through scientific means. It’s the roles for all of us. Not just for one association. Athletes are not only changing age but they change name.”

Malboum said efforts set up a reliable database to track athletes’ age were at an advanced stage whilst punishment for those caught off-side have also been extended.

“The ban used to be two years now its four years,” he said.

The Africa Youth Games are being used as qualifiers for the Nanjing 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games.

And Malboum feels Africa would be shamed if some of the athletes who excel in Gaborone would go on to be found out as age cheaters in China.

“I have my technical team that is going through the ages of those who qualified for Nanjing. We have three months to verify, because we would not want that to happen,” he said.

“But it won’t just be an embarrassment to me. Athletes first represent their countries before representing Africa.”

The 64-year-old administrator, who is also a Council Member of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), also spoke at length about his desire to have the best athletes competing at CAA Africa Athletics Championships.

Over the years African athletics meets have lost their gloss with athletes opting to compete in European road races at the expense of representing their country at continental challenges.

“Our (African) federations they don’t do their job. It is only the federation that can select their best,” he said.

“The conflict is between manager and federation. Managers want financial glory. But Europeans they understand that country comes before money. Our federations are also not respecting retired athletes.

“So athletes want to change nationality. If our best live our country how do we develop?

“It’s not just for sports but it’s a widespread. It’s difficult to say, ‘I as the president of the CAA, I can stop the process.’ It’s for all of us.”

The Cameroon-born CAA president, however, acknowledged that monetary incentive will always be a major carrot to lure athletes to African championships meets.

“For the moment we don’t have the means to give that kind of money. Of cause since I begun (being) president we have been hoping to get more financial input we now dealing with tv rights.

Now we want to start making powerhouses host African Championships to motivate countries to bring their best.”

Asked if the CAA was concerned with the continued rise of athletes defecting to richer nations for financial rewards, with many appearing in foreign vests at the Olympics, he says:

“I personally see the best of that. In the past they went as slaves now they go as free people and represent those countries at the highest level. No matter what they are Africans first before anything else. So it gives us pride.”

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