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AGE-FRAUD IN YOUTH SOCCER – THE BLOCKCHAIN TO FIFA’S RESCUE?

The purpose of youth soccer is to unearth young and budding talents to be groomed for, arguably, the most glamorous sport in the world, but it does seem that it is rather adults that are being fished out. At the last U-17 Youth Tournament in Niger, Ghana was absent. She was disqualified for fielding an over-aged player following a protest lodged by Cameroon. Ghana is not alone in this. In 1989, Nigeria’s national youth team was given a two-year ban for fielding over-aged players in FIFA organised youth tournaments. In addition, Nigeria was refused the rights to host the 1991 FIFA World Youth Tournament. A third-year university student from Port Elizabeth in South Africa was fished out after he had captained an Under-15 South African team to play in a tournament in France. Kenya, DPR Korea, Taijikistan, Iraq, Cambodia, Macau, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, Yemen, Mexico, are all countries that have, at one time, been fished out for fielding over-aged players or have dissolved their own national youth team for the same reason. In most parts of the world, youth tournaments are seen as a launchpad into the glamorous world of international football. Qualifying, therefore, to play in a youth tournament opens doors for players, expecially in less developed countries. A player will deliberately falsify his age in order to squeeze himself into the national youth team. Aside that, European scouts are unlikely to recruit a player who is, say, 23 years for a European side. They prefer a 17 year old or below so that there would be enough time for player development. Age-cheating has been a problem for FIFA. In 2009, FIFA introduced the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup to confirm player age. Some nations and individuals were caught in the process. How does the MRI scan work? Every bone in the human arm and leg has an end plate from which the bones grow. This is the plate the MRI looks out for. Its presence shows that the subject is 17 years or below. When growth is complete, usually around age 17-18, this end plate disappears on the MRI scan. Though the MRI scan is fishing out adults parading themselves as children, it has its own drawbacks. Firstly, it is about 99% accurate so it cannot be sure on 1% of people scanned. Again, beyond age 17, it becomes more difficult to medically and professionally calculate a player’s age. This is where the blockchain comes in. The blockchain was developed by Satoshi Nagamoto and launched in 2009. It is primarily, a record of digital events that are “distributed” or shared between many parties. It can only be updated by the consensus of majority of participants in the system. Once an information is entered, it can never be erased. It is a record- keeping system that looks like a big online ledger, keeping track of every event. The blockchain has a certain and a verifiable record of every transaction that would ever be made and confirmed to have been made. Marc Andreessen, the doyen of Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists concedes that since the internet, the blockchain’s distributed consensus is the most important invention. The blockchain has the highest inbuilt auditability mechanism currently available. Can the blockchain rescue FIFA and plug every loophole that has so far been exploited by players and their handlers? The adoption of the blockchain by FIFA for player age-auditing can prove to be FIFA’s saviour on age related soccer tournaments and subsequently for the documentation of every soccer player in the world. It means, every essential information about a player is entered into a blockchain. Once a consensus is reached, according to majority of participants in the blockchain, that information is locked, confirmed and cannot be erased anymore. How can this be done? FIFA must get a group of experts on the subject together. The blockchain is open-source software, available to all. FIFA must tell the experts what it wants. For example, FIFA wants to be able to verify the age of players who come to tournaments. In fact, whatever FIFA wants can be set into the blockchain, verifiable across the world. There may be a problem with credibility of entries. How sure are we that the information being entered into the block is correct? The experts should know what to do. The inputs needed to make verification of dates of birth possible can be incorporated into the blockchain. A little tweak here and there and age fraud will be a thing of the past. The blockchain can be likened to a cake and cryptocurrency can be likened to the icing. In addition to the blockchain, FIFA can adopt an accompanying cryptocurrency, a coin already in existence. There are a few that are already highly priced, those can be avoided. A coin like Dogecoin can be adopted. It is inexpensive. works like bitcoin because it is based on the same code base as bitcoin. One can get Dogecoin at many cryto currency exchangers websites etc. Even individuals in the sports fraternity, like sports journalists, sports administrators, sponsors, supporters and players may buy Dogecoin as a store of value. It can be used for crowd-funding, for sports projects and football club monthly dues. Funs can use it to tip their favourite players. Africans who follow European football can tip their favourite players a few Dogecoin. The BBC can use it as an option for people who want to vote for the BBC African footballer of the year. Dogecoin can be converted into cash . If one just wants to experiment with the concept, pls visit http://dogecoin.com/ for more information. FIFA must not ignore the blockchain or the cryptocurrency (Dogecoin). They both have a lot of benefits in store for players, officials, journalists, player agents, scouts, etc.
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