Confederation of African Football (CAF) Medical Officer Dr Thulani Ngwenya has clarified a number of issues relating to the disqualification of four teams from the on-going COSAFA Qualifiers for TOTAL U-17 AFCON, Morocco 2021.
Botswana, Comoros Islands, Eswatini and Zimbabwe were all excluded from the competition after one or more players failed a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) eligibility assessment on their arrival in host city Nelson Mandela Bay.
Dr Ngwenya, who is also Chief Medical Officer for the South African Football Association (SAFA) has explained why the tests are conducted, and how teams were advised to conduct tests prior to their departure, under the strict guidance of CAF.
He reveals that the four teams who were disqualified either did not follow this crucial steps or didn’t have the CAF approved medical expert overseeing their process, and would have uncovered the issues that led to their exit from the competition prior to departure from their own country had they done so.
“MRI is a FIFA-approved imaging used to determine eligibility to play in the Under-17 age group,” Dr Ngwenya explains. “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 different 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. CAF 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 mean a player is ‘over-age’.
“This is an eligibility assessment, not an age determination assessment,” he says.
There have also been questions as to why the MRI tests are conducted on boys only, and not those competitors in girls’ 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.
Dr Ngwenya insists the issues around the COSAFA Qualifiers for TOTAL U-17 AFCON, Morocco 2021 could have been avoided if the affected associations had followed the recommended guidelines as set out by CAF.
“CAF released a circular requesting all federations to do the MRI in their own countries (before departure),” he revealed. “All federations could submit the request and CAF would send an expert to that country to oversee the process.
“Some countries did exactly that, but all the countries that failed the eligibility test didn’t adhere to the circular as prescribed by CAF.”
Dr Ngwenya further reveals that there is a set process to conducting the test that CAF specifically requests, which is why they want their trained medical personnel on site.
“There is a particular protocol that needs to be followed when doing this scan so that it gives you perfect images and that can only be conducted by CAF medical experts that were workshopped by CAF,” he says.
Dr Thulani Ngwenya holds office as the Chief Medical Officer at the South African Football Association.