Age cheats now big problem in South American football

SAO PAULO- A former Brazil youth player has recently confessed to falsifying his age to advance his career, a growing problem that started in Africa and has now shifted to South America.

SAO PAULO- A former Brazil youth player has recently confessed to falsifying his age to advance his career, a growing problem that started in Africa and has now shifted to South America.

Carlos Alberto, who helped Brazil win the under-20 World Championship in 2003, said he was 25 at the time. He received a one-year suspension by Brazil's top sports tribunal. Last Thursday, he was interrogated by Brazilian federal police and could be charged with fraud. Commonplace in Africa, age-fraud is widely believed to be rife in Brazil, but very few athletes have been caught or suspended.

A Sao Paulo player said he lied about his age earlier in his career, and this week a youth player with two-time national champions Santos was found to be four years older than his birth certificate showed.

Carlos Alberto, who played for first-division Figueirense, was about to be transferred to Sao Paulo when the fraud was discovered. The Folha de S Paulo newspaper reported two weeks ago that the player was using a fake birth certificate that cut five years off his real age.

"I am 28 years old, not 23," he said.

The midfielder said he altered his age in 2000 after a friend said it could boost his career.

"I did it out of necessity, I needed to help my family, they were very poor," Carlos Alberto said. Carlos Alberto's lawyers, in their defence, said he wanted to "help his family" and the player was only suspended for 360 days instead of the maximum 720 days.

He could still receive a prison sentence of up to five years if he is convicted of fraud. Figueirense was said to not know that Carlos Alberto's birth certificate was fake.

The Brazilian Soccer Confederation also wasn't punished, and Fifa said Brazil's under-20 title in 2003 was not in jeopardy.

The case prompted other players to come out with age-cheating stories, including one by Souza, a midfielder who helped Sao Paulo win this year's Brazilian championship.

The 27-year-old midfielder said he'd altered his age 10 years ago so he could play in an amateur tournament.

"They discovered the fraud within a couple of months and it almost ended my career." Souza wasn't punished because he was not yet playing professionally at the time.

Brazil player Dudu Cearense, currently with CSKA Moscow, is another who has admitted he lied about his age. But in his case, it was to portray he was older than his actual age.

"To play for Ceara, I had to say I was five years older than I was," Cearense told the Lance sports daily. "In a tryout, they asked for players 20 or older, but I volunteered even though I was only 15."

Cearense, who played alongside Carlos Alberto in the 2003 under-20 championship, said throughout his career he has heard of several other players who altered their age.- Sapa-AP

X