Mystery of the Ages

Review of the week: 2 – 8 November 2015


Under 17 Football World Cup

Nigeria is the best football nation in the world, or at least it is at U17 level, for it won its fifth World Cup this week, 2-0 against Mali, in an all-African final. Its trophy cabinet also boasts gold and silver medals from the Olympics, where most players are aged under 23.

Nwankwo Kanu (above) has won both competitions and appeared in three senior World Cups. But the Super Eagles failed to catch a wind and have never reached the last eight.

Kanu has been accused of lying about his age and age cheating is a common explanation for this failure to build upon youth success. While the practice is certainly rife, I am not convinced. FIFA introduced bone scans in 2009 to curtail dishonesty and this has done nothing to clip the wings of the Super Eaglets, who have won a second U17 title in a row.

Why Do They Lie?

The reason for blurring the truth is the key to the mystery. There are many academies in Nigeria for young players, set up by European clubs or by speculators, hoping to profit by selling them on. Even Kanu owns one. But nobody wants to sign a Nigerian in his 20s, however talented. Development opportunities for older players are much less common.

The domestic league is weakened by corruption, and competition from English football, and only some make it to Europe. For other Nigerian hopefuls, access to good coaching falls off a cliff by the age of 21, and their international careers soon come tumbling after.

Hosszú Katinka 2013

Swimming World Cup

In the final round in Dubai, South Africa dominated the men’s event, as Cameron van der Burgh won the overall title and Chad le Clos was second. For the women, Hungary took the honours, with Katinka Hosszu (above) in first place and Zsuzsanna Jakobos in third.

Just behind Jakobos was breaststroker, Alia Atkinson, of Jamaica. Unfortunately, her favoured distance of 50m is not part of the Olympic programme but, in the 100m, there is a strong possibility that she could win the first ever swimming medal for her country.

Wheelchair Doubles Masters

The Dutch dominance of women’s wheelchair tennis had been broken in the last two editions by Jordanne Whiley and Yui Kamiji. But this year, the Netherlands reasserted themselves, as Jiske Griffioen and Aniek van Koot defeated Whiley and Yui in the final.

In the mixed quad tennis event, Nick Taylor and David Wagner of the United States won for the ninth time. The Paralympic champions look very likely to retain their title in Rio.

Next week: The Fed Cup Final between the Czech Republic and Russia, and boccia


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