Renato Sanches is having himself one hell of a Euro 2016. After coming off of the bench in the first couple of matches, Sanches has established himself as a first choice member of the squad for the Quarterfinal victory over Poland and the Semifinal victory over Wales. It’s hard to see any situation where Sanches isn’t in the starting lineup for the Final.
However, among all of this great play, some people have taken it upon themselves to question how old Sanches is. His birth certificate says “1997”, but they want to peg him at 5-6 years older. Why? It’s pretty simple. Sanches is bigger, stronger, and faster they he “should be”. He’s better and more mature on the ball than he “should be”.
Legendary Auxerre coach Guy Roux added his name to the list when he spoke with Romanian broadcaster Dolce Sport this week. "Yes, he says he is 18 years old but he must look at his past,” Roux said. “His date of birth was declared a few years later. The date is not true. I believe he is 23 or 24 years old -- but he is a very good player."
Roux is correct in the fact that Sanches’s birth wasn’t officially registered until 2002. His parents were African immigrants to Lisbon (His father is from São Tomé and Príncipe, and his mother is from Cape Verde.) and separated shortly after his birth. His father moved to France, and Sanches’s birth wasn’t registered until his father returned to Lisbon.
During the season, Sporting Lisbon president Bruno de Carvalho questioned in a Facebook post how old Sanches actually is, in what was surely an attempt to disrupt Benfica’s title winning season. (Benfica edged Sporting in the final table 88-86.).
This isn’t an issue that Sanches takes lightly. He reportedly sued Portuguese television commentator Carlos Severino last fall for defamation, and Diário de Notícias suspects that he did the same to Carvalho after demanding an apology that never came. Diário de Notícias is also reporting that a source close to Sanches has revealed that he plans to slap Roux with a defamation lawsuit also.
Portugal boss Fernando Santos was asked about the issue in his press conference before the Wales game. "Everyone knows Renato Sanches," Santos said. "He was born in Portugal like I was, and registered like I was. He is 18, I am 61. This is a joke."
Questioning the age of a black player, particularly those from Africa, isn’t new. Miles Chambers spoke about it in his piece over at Goal.com.
The underlying issue that is often at play when a black player is questioned about his age is one of powerful racial prejudices. There have been numerous instances over the past 30 years where African youth teams have been caught fielding overage players. FIFA banned Nigerian youth teams in 1989 for that offence, a South African Under-15 captain was revealed to be 24 years old by a journalist, and in 2010 Senegal withdrew three Under-17 national team players after an MRI scan revealed they were overage.
The common factor here is that all these incidents involve Africans. Why? The answer is a complicated one, with blame falling at the feet of many parties. Sometimes agents and players will play an active role in lying about their age. Sometimes teams will knowingly turn a blind eye to players who look or act older than they claim.
However, sometimes the relative poverty in parts of the continent mean that birth records and school years aren't tracked as well as in Europe and America. Some of the players accused of cheating might not even know themselves that they are older than they are claiming.
As Miles points out, Sanches was born in Lisbon, Portugal in a Portuguese hospital. He is Portuguese. This isn’t up for debate.
I do, however, disagree with Miles’s headline in calling it “dangerously close to racism”. These attacks on Sanches are 100% racist. If he was a white player, he would never hear a word of these attacks.
The following video comes courtesy of Benfica TV in the year 2010. This was filmed when Sanches was 13 years old. If he was as old as a few others would have you believe, Sanches would’ve been 18-19 when this video was filmed. Does this look like a 13 year old boy or a 18-19 year old man?
You shouldn’t need this video to convince you.
Questioning someone’s age on the basis that they are bigger, stronger, and faster than what they are “supposed” to be is racist.
Don’t be racist.