MUCH as the Confederation of African Football (CAF) refuses to call it "age cheating", Botswana, Comoros Islands, Eswatini and Zimbabwe, have been banned from the Cosafa Under-17 men's competition for the next two competitions, and by consequence the next Fifa U-17 World Cup.

The quartet were slapped with this punishment on the basis of "fielding over-age players" for the championship which was due to start on Thursday but had to be moved to this Sunday.

Sue Destombes, Cosafa secretary general, has elaborated more on the ban of the four countries via a video message.

"We received a letter from Caf competitions advising us that four teams have been disqualified from the competition for failing the age eligibility test. We don't use the word age cheating because this is not it. It's an age eligibility test which is determined by the MRI done in the protocol that was put up by Fifa, and there were four teams that failed the test," said Destombes. 

"We're not informed as to how many players from those disqualified countries were taken through the test. But it was simply that, and it wouldn't make a difference whether it was one or 20 because the decision that was taken by Caf in October was such that if after doing the eligibility test and even one player fails then the entire team will be disqualified. 

"With very heavy hearts we have written to the four associations concerned and advised them that they have been disqualified from the 2020 Zonal qualifiers."

MRI scans are used across the world to determine whether players are eligible for U-17 competitions.

"Doctors look for bone fusions in the human wrist, which are highly unlikely to occur before the age of 17, with a more than 99% accuracy rate. If the fused bone can be seen on the MRI scans, then it is proof that the player is older than 17," Cosafa said in statement on Friday. 

It is certainly not an issue that affects Southern Africa alone, Guinea were disqualified from appearing at the 2019 Fifa U-17 World Cup after being found guilty of fielding two ineligible players in the continental finals, where they finished third.

Cosafa took a resolution that the 2020 Cosafa Men’s U-17 Championship will restart as a four-team tournament on Sunday and will be played on a round-robin basis, with the top two teams advancing to a final on 29 November.

Host South Africa will open their campaign against Malawi (kick-off 3.30pm), while before that Angola and Zambia do battle at 12.30pm.

"The matches which have been played to date will be regarded as warm-up games and will have no bearing on the new tournament format. There are also fixtures on Tuesday and Thursday, before the final positions are decided next Sunday, including a third-fourth play-off," Cosafa elaborated.

The two sides that reach the final based on their position in the group will have already achieved one ambition by qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations that is scheduled for Morocco in the middle of next year," said Destombes. 

"We do it as Cosafa U-17 like last year in Malawi, or is done as a Zonal qualifier this year and it's the MRI scan to determine the eligibility of the players. Caf sent out a reminder from the 1 November making recommendations that associations must conduct their own MRI in their country and invite a Caf doctor to come and read the images. Everybody started arriving on 15 November and the tournament started on 19 November. All the MRI scans were done and the images and report goes to the Caf medical deparment and they're the one to make the final call in reviewing the images and make the recommendations to the Caf Youth Competitions Committee to make any ruling if there's any to be made."