The Under-17 and Under-20 Lesotho national football (soccer) teams made it through the first stage of qualification for their African youth championships and will move on to play Cameroon and South Africa respectively. These results occurred after the Lesotho Football Association cut funding to its senior mens’ team to concentrate on youth development.
BBC has a radio interview here
A lot of people are dismissive of this success because they are certain that the teams are age cheating – using overage players. It seems age cheating is quite common place in African soccer- I would also recommend checking out this article. The authors link the problem of age cheating back to poverty and believe that youth represents hope and opportunity. If players can make their way onto development teams then they might stand a better chance of playing professionally.
Through my work in Lesotho I have attended a number of youth tournaments. At every tournament there are issues with overage players. In Lesotho there are no professional teams, so the poverty rationale does not seem to apply. Why would age cheating still occur in small tournaments in Lesotho? Is it over-competitiveness? Is it cultural – are perceptions of age or rules different?
I was talking with some Basotho friends and colleagues about age cheating and they justified it by saying that everyone does it, including North American and European athletes. I tried to explain that it might be very difficult for Wayne Rooney or Lebron James to falsify their ages, but my arguments didn’t seem to sway them. Maybe I’m naïve. When Lebron James joined the NBA as a freak of an 18 year old maybe he was actually 25.
*** I should note that after writing this I have recently heard that the 2012 African Cup of Nations has been moved to 2013 and Lesotho will enter into qualifying ***