24 April 2023 – Age cheating has become a widespread problem in African football with rogue schools, clubs and even parents sometimes complicit in forging players’ ages in order to gain an advantage on the pitch. SAFA’s commitment to fighting cheating via digital player registration is one big reason that its teams have not been caught up in the high-profile scandals that have rocked African football recently.
The Men’s U17 national team set to compete in the 2023 Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations is a striking example. Sixteen members of the 21-man squad of rising stars have been registered on MYSAFA a combined 48 times. Thato Sibiya of Mamelodi Sundowns tops the list with six registration records dating back to his U13 Gauteng Development League (GDL) playing days in 2018 – MYSAFA’ second year of existence.
This success has not gone unnoticed, with stakeholders in South African football praising MYSAFA as an invaluable tool for fighting age cheating.
“Registering players early and often in MYSAFA is the best tool we have to fight age cheating in South African Football,” explained Orlando Pirates Head of Youth Development, Cayl Coetsee. “There is simply less incentive to cheat at age 10 or 11, and once a player’s details are captured in the system, they can’t be changed. Adopting the MYSAFA system is a game changer for our LFAs. It’s an outstanding tool.”
It’s also a big reason FIFA regulations require all players to be registered from age 12. FIFA has even taken the extra step of mandating that by July 2025, these regulations must be included “without modification in [every] association’s regulations”.*
By creating a complete registration history, known as a “player passport,” it becomes difficult for a player to falsify their date of birth for a single league or tournament.
Proprietary MYSAFA tools such as home affairs verification and the ability to scan a player’s card to see their registration details online have become indispensable features for SAFA officials and coaches.
“MYSAFA’s player profile scanning and Home Affairs API have been instrumental in fighting age cheating in South African football,” said MYSAFA general manager, Shane Felix. “Perception is also important. If coaches and parents think that it’s likely they will be caught and shamed in front of their friends and their football family, they are much less likely to try.”
But Inqaku does not plan to rest on its laurels just yet. Facial recognition and artificial intelligence will soon be enlisted in the war on cheating.
“Doing a 3-D facial scan of each player will allow us to digitally check if the player’s ID photo matches,” said Inqaku COO Jason Anderson. “The technology is mature and we already have a proof of concept up-and-running. It will enable us to check for matches where a player used different personal details, like date of birth, providing yet another check against the data sent from Home Affairs. In other African countries where we operate, this will become our primary method of catching cheaters.”
SAFA’s success in combatting age cheating is a testament to the effectiveness of the MYSAFA registration system. As South African football continues to avoid this own goal on the international stage, the adoption of MYSAFA should serve as a model for other countries looking to tackle the issue of age cheating.
*FIFA RSTP – Article 1.3.a
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