The organizers of the MTN CHAMPS Athletics tournament has appealed to the participants to ensure that they use their real ages.
In an open letter to their Schools, Parents and Coaches, the organizers said "We are appealing to all Athletes who have competed at MTN CHAMPS and everyone connected to them to support MoC and MTN CHAMPS in our efforts to eradicate systemic age cheating in our Athletics by committing to use their real ages at the MTN CHAMPS Grand Final and in future".
"MTN has provided a historic opportunity for Nigeria to finally tackle the pressures that our Athletes have long faced to cut their ages - never in our nation's history has there been a nationwide series of championships that has provided three age groups cutting across ages 11-19, to give everyone possible the opportunity to compete fairly in their own age groups, and we have even relaxed the Junior age group from U20 to U23".
They further said that "Despite the fact that appropriate age groups have been provided for everyone, we have still seen widespread age discrepancies across all three age categories - Cadet (U14) and Youth (U17) categories which were strictly for Secondary Schools only, and Juniors (U20) which was open to all other teenagers".
"For example, we have seen a systematic pattern of an unusually high number of SS2 and SS3 students claiming to be 13 and 14 years old respectively. We have seen Athletes who were 14 in 2021 claiming to still be 14 now, 18-year-olds who have finished secondary school already claiming to be 13 so that they can run against the Cadets, and we have seen many Athletes competing for schools they are not part of and in the wrong age categories as well - one of such schools which was biggest offender in this area is currently in the process of being disqualified, which will be announced shortly".
"MTN CHAMPS is sponsoring 30 Athletes - Most Valuable Performers (MVPs) and 'Golden Performers' - from the Benin, Uyo and Ibadan legs of the competition to the Grand Final in Abuja, but we are still in the process of finalizing the Top 10 from each location to be sponsored to Abuja, and we need the urgent help and support of all the shortlisted Athletes to ensure that we can help make their dreams come true".
"Over the past month, MoC has paid courtesy visits to over 70 shortlisted Athletes, the very best who competed at each MTN CHAMPS event so far, across over 10 States nationwide, to get to know them in an effort to select the final 30 overall who will be sponsored to Abuja as 'Team MVP' for the MTN CHAMPS Grand Final, where the Top 20 Athletes for the inaugural MTN CHAMPS season will be shortlisted for the MoC Athletics Academy, which will see 10 of them joining in 2024, courtesy of MTN as the Lead Sponsor"
In a very first for School Athletics in Nigeria, the MTN Champs Grand Final in Abuja is going to be broadcast live by SuperSport, and this means that the stakes have never been higher - as a nation we have an incredible opportunity to begin an exciting new journey of transforming our image in Athletics and Sports in general, but to do that we must protect our children, especially at such young ages, from making the errors of misrepresenting themselves on live TV in front of the country, Africa and the world.
We are appealing to Schools, Parents and Coaches to ensure that their wards are all using their real ages to compete so they don't have to lie about such for the rest of their lives. Thanks to MTN, there is now a competition for every age group, so there is no longer any need for Athletes to be untruthful about their ages to get a fair chance to compete and be successful in the sport!
As such, the 70 shortlisted Athletes who have all already been contacted to be considered for the final 30 to be sponsored to the Grand Final and the final 10 to join MoC Athletics Academy in 2024 must all, by no later than Wednesday 22nd November (the initial registration deadline for Abuja), send MoC the documentation that we have already requested from each of them to complete our background verification process".
"For any Athletes from the Top 70 who are ultimately not selected for the Top 30 to Abuja, please train hard and come back next year, and you could even possibly make the Top 10 for the Academy then! Please also don't be dismayed if you are left out despite initially being named an MVP, Golden Performer or Medallist at any of the MTN CHAMPS Competitions - while we are NOT accusing anyone of cheating, as a precaution we would leave out any Athlete who isn't able to sufficiently satisfy the requirements of the background verification process which we have communicated to each of you."
" Age falsification denies high potential young athletes the chance of being noticed and nurtured at the right time, and inevitably creates a cycle and culture where it seems both normal and necessary to do the same thing as soon as they have the chance to, even though it is should be neither. We have an incredible opportunity to start breaking this cycle now, and we hope all Athletes, Schools and Parents take heed ahead of the Grand Final in Abuja from 1st to 3rd December. All the best to the participating athletes" they concluded.