Seven overaged players have been expelled from the Under-20 national football team that is in camp in preparation for the Council for Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) Cup in December.
The development has exposed Football Association of Malawi’s (FAM) glaring short-comings in verifying players ages before they are called into camp.
The affected players are William Thole, Josophat Kwalira (Azam Tigers), Mark Fodya, Trevor Kalema (Silver Strikers), Solomoni Saenda (Blantyre United), Francis Nkonda (Civil Sporting) and Aziz Pindani (Zomba United).
The seven were part of a 29-member squad that was called to start training last week but following a Nation on Sunday article that exposed that some players graduated from the Under-17 that played in the Under-17 Youth Championship in 2012 and were promoted to the Under-20 that participated in Under-20 for the Africa Youth Championship in 2014, FAM technical director John Kaputa promised to flush out over-aged players.
The exercise started on Monday at Mpira Village in Chiwembe Township, Blantyre where the squad, that had a majority from Super League, is camping.
Kaputa said they were profiling players’ history starting from primary to secondary school then FMB Under-20 if the player played in the junior league.
The verification also traced the players’ regional league history in Simama Northern Region, Master Security Southern Region and Chipiku Central Region football leagues and finally TNM Super League for those playing in the elite league.
The exercise discovered massive age-cheating with some players bearing different ages in various leagues, according to Kaputa.
He said: “The process is on-going. Those that have contradicting ages will be sent home. We will continue the process until we have those that are within the required age range.”
Asked how the players found themselves in the squad in the first place, Kaputa, who was not in the meeting that initially came up with the squad, said the under-20 technical panel erred by taking as gospel truth the passport details of the players.
Said Kaputa: “They used details in the players’ passports as the official age of the players. But this is not enough to verify one’s age. We thank the media for bringing to our attention that some players are over-aged.”
But soccer analyst George Kaudza Masina said FAM was to blame for the mistake.
“FAM should take full responsibility for the mishap because the age-verification exercise should have been conducted before announcing the call up.
“Players are not to blame because they did not go into camp on their own and if anything FAM should apologise to them for the embarrassment caused,” he said.
FAM general secretary Alfred Gunda said the association had instructed Kaputa to lead the Under-20 national team players re-selection and screening process.
“I know some players have been sent back. After the exercise, he [Kaputa] will submit a report. That is when I will be able to comment on the issue,” he said.
In June, FAM also flushed out nine Under-17 players for age-cheating.
The association spent K6 million to verify a 25-member squad, only for nine of them to be discovered to be overage.
FAM had to pay more money to scan another group of players to find replacements.
Commenting on the age-cheating problem in general, Gunda said there is need to tackle the problem from the grass roots.
He said: “You can actually see that this problem is starting from school competitions all the way to lower leagues, Super League then to junior national teams. If we are to root out this problem, we must start from grass roots.
“Our players need to be told to desist from age-cheating even when they are told by club officials to alter their ages.” n