Minister for Sports, Bolaji Abdullahi, has called for the introduction of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test in subsequent editions of the National Youth Games (NYG) following mass discovery of age cheats during the screening exercise of its maiden edition.
About 600 overage athletes have been disqualified and 1,326 declared eligible to participate in the maiden edition of the NYG billed for the Abuja National Stadium.
Abdullahi, who also doubles as Chairman of the National Sports Commission (NSC) told newsmen in Abuja the test would be integrated into the Sports Medicine Centre of the NSC.
“Most likely, the MRI test will be used in subsequent editions because we have one testing centre each in Port Harcourt and Calabar,” Abdullahi said, while responding to the large number of disqualified athletes.
“But as we set up the High Performance Centre and the Sports Medicine Centre, all these things will be integrated.
“So, subsequently, we can take advantage of that, but it is very expensive doing it on commercial basis.
“The last MRI test the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) conducted on national U-17 players cost a lot of money, so if we have like 4,000 athletes, there is no way we can fund that kind of test.
“But once we have these machines installed, it will be easy to be done in-house.”
The Sports Minister acknowledged the MRI test remains the most reliable means of tracking down age cheats while also admitting its margin of error.
“What the MRI does is to scan the bone marrow density to be able to gauge the level of degeneration because all these things are correlated with age.
“So, even though it is not 100 per cent perfect, it still remains the best method because like any other thing done by human beings, the present screening we are doing will not be perfect.
“But if we are able to get 70 per cent or 80 per cent accuracy, it will be better because the criteria we are using is that if you are truly under-17, you should be in school.
“And if you are in school, it means you didn’t just start taking part in sports yesterday, you should have been doing that long before you are 17 years old.
“And that is why we involved the Nigeria School Sports Federation (NSSF), because they organise school sports annually and they know the students that have been participating in competitions.
“So if you have not participated in under-13, under-15 and you suddenly show up that you are under-17, and there is no record of your previous participation, then it is obvious that you are a suspect.”
Abdullahi added that the NSC will adhere by the outcome of the screening exercise and forge ahead with the eligible athletes for the competition, which holds from December 6 to 15 at the Package A and B of the National Stadium.
“We have agreed with the directors of sports in the states and if at the end of the screening, we have only two states, we will still do the competition, rather than allow overage athletes.
“I learnt that some states will not participate in some events because most of the team members are overage and I am glad that the screening committee did not hesitate to send them away.
“And I don’t know why people are doing this because no financial reward is attached to the games and that is why we said there won’t be any medal for the winners.
“But human beings will still be human beings and old habits die very hard, and regardless of what you do, some will still want to cheat with the age. But it is our responsibility to ensure that they don’t get away with it,” he said.