Age Cheating

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 ***

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Shawn graduated from UBC a number of years ago when he completed a Bachelor of Human Kinetics, followed by a Bachelor of Education. Not really interested in toiling away in a particular school district in B.C., he decided to go abroad and ended up teaching P.E. in China. His last year coincided with the Beijing Olympics and seemed like a fitting way to conclude his time in Asia. Through work and travel experiences he took an interest in international issues and development and completed a Certificate in International Development through UBC Continuing Studies. Shawn returned to Canada and worked for a year as a teacher-on-call before deciding it was time to explore his interest in international development a bit more. He is now working in Lesotho (a small country inside of South Africa) on an HIV/AIDS project run by the Lesotho Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (LENEPWHA). The project has a sport-for-development component that is using soccer to reach out to, and provide services for, orphaned and vulnerable children. At the same time Shawn had also applied to start graduate studies at UBC and will officially start his MA this year. His posts will reflect his personal and work experiences in Lesotho, and the concept of sport as a tool in development.