All the players taking part in the football competition at the TotalEnergies U-17 Africa Cup of Nations | COSAFA Qualifier at the Region 5 Games Lilongwe 2022 will undergo Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) assessments to confirm their eligibility to compete in the tournament in Malawi.
This will be done under the watchful eye of leading sports physician Dr Thulani Ngwenya, who is a CAF Medical Commission Member and COSAFA Medical Officer.
Dr Ngwenya is a leading expert on the African continent and has taken a more hands-on role with the process this year. He will assess the results from each of the nine competing nations.
The tests are used to ensure the players are within the required birth date range for the competition, which starts from January 1, 2006, and follows the disqualification of four sides from the COSAFA Qualifiers for TotalEnergies U-17 Africa Cup of Nations Morocco 2021 two years ago.
Botswana, Comoros, Eswatini and Zimbabwe were all excluded from the competition in 2020 after one or more players failed a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) assessment. Dr Ngwenya explains the importance of the tests for boys.
“MRI is a FIFA-approved method used to determine eligibility to play in the Under-17 age group,” Dr Ngwenya explained. “The images are taken on the non-dominant wrist, which is usually the left hand. The image takes about nine ‘slices’ of the growth plate.
“There are various stages of grading the growth plate, from 1 to 6. Grade 6 is the last stage where the growth plate is completely fused.
“For the purpose of Under-17 tournaments, everyone who is a Grade 6 is therefore deemed ineligible to participate in this age group category. The Confederation of African Football introduced this method to make our sport to be a fair and a level playing field.”
Dr Ngwenya is quick to point out that a Grade 6 result does not necessarily mean a player is ‘over-age’.
“This is an eligibility assessment, not an age determination assessment,” he stresses.
There have also been questions as to why the MRI tests are conducted on boys only, and not those competitors in the girls’ Under-17 competitions.
“Girls have a natural situation of a menstrual cycle that really affects the development of their bones and directly affects their bone density,” he explains.
The TotalEnergies U-17 Africa Cup of Nations | COSAFA Qualifier at the Region 5 Games Lilongwe 2022 kicks-off on December 2, with the final to be played on December 11.
The two finalists will seal their place at the continental competition which is to be staged in Algeria next year.