Syria suspected of fielding ineligible players against Olyroos

The Asian Football Confederation has defended the integrity of its youth tournaments after a series of highly irregular registered birth dates among the Syrian national under-23 team were revealed after their match against .

Fairfax Media can reveal Syria’s starting line-up for their AFC U-23 Championship group-stage 3-1 defeat included two players whose birth dates were officially registered as being on the cut-off date to be deemed eligible for the youth tournament.

Suspicions were raised about the age of several players when strikers Shadi Al-Hamwi and Mohammad Rafat Muhtadi were both registered as being born on January 1, 1995, and are the only players across all teams in the competition whose dates of birth are listed as the cut-off date for registration. According to the competition’s regulations, the 2018 U-23 tournament is for players who “were born on or after 1 January 1995.”

Al-Hamwi and Muhtadi both started against on Thursday night in the Chinese city of Kunshan and are among eight Syrian players whose birthdays are registered as January 1. Two others whose birth dates are registered on New Year’s Day also started against , defenders Moumen Naji (1996) and Mhd Farnes Arnaout (1997).

The AFC is aware of the unusual pattern of registered birth dates with the Syrian national team and says they have sought to verify all dates of birth with as many official documents it can receive. However, the organisation says it is still limited with its powers when it comes to age verification, which is a difficult process that relies on national football federations and federal governments providing true and accurate documentation.

“T???he AFC cross-checks all documentation it receives from the Member Associations relating to players’ ages. This is a complex issue involving various international and state authorities and responsibility lies with all of them to protect Asian football from age fraud,” an AFC spokesperson said.

Football Federation declined to comment on the issue of age registration of Syrian players when contacted by Fairfax Media on Sunday. The AFC says it is taking more steps to ensure the integrity of its youth tournaments are upheld and is allowing members of the public to report potential breaches to the organisation.

“Integrity is a cornerstone of the AFC’s Vision and Mission and the AFC has implemented various measures in order to prevent, detect and respond to integrity issues across the continent. Such measures include the appointment of an ???independent Head of integrity, and the provision of an integrity email address ([email protected]老域名购买) and mobile App through which anyone who is concerned about an integrity matter can report it to the AFC,” a spokesperson said.

January 1 is a common registered date of birth for many Syrians, particularly those who do not come from major urban areas where documentation isn’t easily acquired. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has reportedly used January 1 as a date of birth for all Syrian refugees who do not have identification and do not know their exact date of births.

The FFA has raised concerns about ages of Syrian players in previous Asian competitions. In 2012, the FFA and Saudi Arabia submitted official complaints alleging Syria fielded over-age players in an U-19s team. Former FFA head of national teams, John Boultbee, suggested age cheating was widespread throughout the region.

“A few days before the competition began, we were provided with the registration list and the Syrian team featured six players born on January 1, 1993 – the last day you could be born to be eligible. The whole team had January birth dates,” Boultbee told media in 2012.