Background: In order to guarantee equal chances for different age groups, age-related tournaments for male and female players have been established in soccer. However, while registration at birth is not compulsory in some countries, other methods of age determination are needed to prevent participation in the incorrect age group.
Objectives: To evaluate the age of soccer players of international U-17 competitions based on the degree of fusion of the distal radius and to compare the findings with an age-related normative population.
Methods: MRIs of the wrist of a representative sample of 189 players from four U-17 competitions (FIFA U- 17 World Cups 2003 and 2005, Asian (AFC) U-17 championships 2004, 2006) were analysed using a previously published grading system.
Results: Due to different regulations, all players in AFC U-17 championships were younger than 17 years, whereas 71% of the players in FIFA U-17 World Cup were 17 years old. The distal radius of 15% of players from the AFC U-17 and 27% of the players from the FIFA U-17 tournaments were graded completely fused on MR images which is a substantially higher percentage than in the respective age groups of a previously published normative population of soccer players. Furthermore, in contrast to the normative population no significant correlation between the age category and the grading of fusion (rho= .13, n.s.) was observed in U-17 players.
Conclusion: Following the results of MRI investigation, U-17 players seem to be more mature than a normative population of the same age category. However, the lack of correlation between age category and degree of fusion in U-17 players supports the suspect that the age stated in the official documents of the examined U-17 players might not be correct in all cases.
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