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Liberia’s age cheating disqualification an ‘unacceptable embarrassment’

Liberia’s hopes of reaching next year’s U17 World Cup were dashed after disqualification in the Nations Cup qualifiers

Liberia’s Sport Minister Zeogar Wilson has blamed the country’s Football Association (LFA) for the disqualification of its men’s team from the qualifiers for the Africa Under-17 Nations Cup.

Liberia were disqualified on Monday after two players failed an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan used by the West African Football Union (Wafu) under Confederation of African Football (Caf) regulations.

“This is completely unacceptable for us. It has embarrassed the country. Those responsible must be held accountable,” Wilson said.

The minister has launched an inquiry into an issue he says he briefed President Weah on.

MRI machines have been used to scan players’ wrists to pinpoint their true age and were first used by world governing body Fifa at the 2009 U17 World Cup in Nigeria.

Article 27.4 of the Caf Regulations for the U17 Nations Cup states: “If, after the age qualification test (MRT) has been carried out for a participating team, it is determined that a player is ineligible to participate, the participating team will be disqualified.”

Liberia’s exclusion meant that Sierra Leone and hosts Mauritania automatically advanced to the semi-finals of the six-team Wafu Zone A tournament in Nouakchott.

The finals of the U17 Nations Cup, to be played in Algeria next April, will also serve as Africa’s qualifier for next year’s U17 World Cup in Peru, in which all semi-finalists participate.

In response, LFA President Mustapha Raji said he had relied on players’ parents to confirm their children’s ages after an MRI test in Monrovia failed to meet Caf’s eligibility requirements.

“The MRI scan at Jahmale [hospital in Paynesville] can only read up to 0.33 Tesla. Caf’s standard requirement is 1.5 Tesla,” Raji said.

“So the due diligence carried out by the LFA was based on the confirmation of the parents of each individual player who was part of the delegation to Mauritania.

“We had explicit faith in the parents because we were not the ones who gave birth to them, but we believed in the parents based on the information provided after a series of meetings.

“Unfortunately, science and technology proved that two of the players were ineligible to enter the competition, resulting in Liberia’s disqualification.”

Footage viewed by the ` showed heartbroken players and members of the Liberia delegation as news of their disqualification broke in Mauritania.

The squad is expected back in Monrovia on Thursday.

LFA ‘accepted no responsibility’

Liberia U17 teamLiberia were set to return to qualifying for the U17 Nations Cup after missing the last two editions

However, Wilson described Raji’s response as an inexcusable mistake that has brought unacceptable national embarrassment to a country that has done so a former world-class player, George Weah, as president.

He said the LFA was aware of the regulations before entering U17 Nations Cup qualifiers.

“The LFA has not taken any responsibility. The LFA has not indicated that it will even open an investigation,” Wilson added.

“I have refused to accept what the LFA boss calls due diligence, relying on parental information and informed consent forms. Some people want their kids to go out and get chances.

“Why do you think Caf and Fifa implemented MRT when they only rely on their members’ player certificates, passports or playing cards? So that’s no excuse to rely on parents.”

Wilson downplayed Raji’s revelation about Jahmale, saying a pre-MRI scan could have been done in Ghana, Guinea or Senegal.

He has announced an inquiry into the disqualification to be led by Liberia National Olympic Committee President Philipbert Browne along with two members of the Sports Writers Association of Liberia.

Wilson has given the committee 60 days to report its findings and said they will be made public.

It is the first public altercation in five years between Wilson and Raji, who previously had a cordial working relationship.

Chris Geeplay Weah, president of third-tier Stages FC, has welcomed the government’s position.

“It’s a right decision by the government,” Weah said.

“The LFA should have taken responsibility for not doing a pre-MRI scan that caused this embarrassment rather than blaming the parents.”

It is not clear if Liberia will be sanctioned by Caf, as administrative errors in player registration will result in a one-tournament ban and fraud or counterfeiting will result in a two-tournament ban.

Liberia returned to the Wafu Zone A competition after being excluded from two editions of the U17 Nations Cup for withdrawing from Senegal qualifiers in 2017.

On that occasion, then-LFA President Musa Hassan Bility had refused to fund a pre-MRI scan because he didn’t trust the players’ ages.

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