An Iraqi youth player, right, in action against Iran. Picture: Mazin Fayadh
An Iraqi youth player, right, in action against Iran. Picture: Mazin Fayadh

Iraq under-16 age cheat exposed

BAGHDAD airport officials knew there was something fishy about Iraq's under-16 football squad as the players headed  through on Monday for a regional tournament in the Jordanian capital.

Despite having shaved to look younger, several of the 23 players for the West Asia Football Federation tournament were found to be overage, said the Iraq Football Association, which immediately sacked the squad officials.

Officials at the airport confiscated nine passports after suspicions were raised over the dates of birth, an Iraqi football source told AFP, on condition of anonymity.

He said the players had shaved, as instructed by team officials, to look younger.

"The technical and administrative staff of the under-16s team have been dismissed and action will be taken against those players who falsified their age," said the IFA, which investigated after being alerted by airport officials.

It was not the first such case of cheating in Iraqi football. According to the association, 18 players were suspended earlier this year after also having tried to pass off as younger than their true age by tampering with their identity papers.

Activists had unmasked several players with pictures on social media showing they had voted in Iraq's May elections, proving they were over 18.

But "the scandal was not taken seriously by the (football) association until the shock this morning at the airport", said sports journalist Youssef Fael.

The under-16s team has pulled out of the tournament in Amman, which starts on Wednesday, but the association will ensure the under-19s who are to take part next month in the Asian Games in Indonesia are the correct age, the IFA told AFP.