In the English game, either at club or national team level, there is zero possibility of age cheating. All births are centrally registered and players have just one birthdate throughout their playing careers. That's my background. This is not the case in Cambodia, or other Asian countries for that matter, where players have their real age but are often saddled with a separate football age by club or national team coaches. It's such a common occurrence in Cambodia that few see it as a dilemma, and has been sanctioned by coaches over many years. But put simply, it's cheating and is a shameful practice that must be stamped out at all levels, both in international and domestic competitions.
The reason why Cambodian coaches break the rules is to try to gain an advantage in youth competitions, particularly in age-level tournaments, and because they think they can get away with it. Take the Asian Football Confederation's U-14 festival of football championships as an example. A youngster must be 14 or under to play in the competition. It's the coach who decides who he wants to select and if a youngster was overage, at say 15 or 16, the player's birthdate was changed and a passport issued to allow the youngster to travel and compete. The date on his original birth certificate, if he has one, was ignored. That football age will then stay with the player throughout his football career. It will also mean that if the player continues his development and retains his place in the national team squads, it will perpetuate the age cheating all the way through to the SEA Games (at U-23 level). It's clearly wrong and does the game a serious injustice.
The AFC, who initially used X-rays to determine the accurate age of players, and who now use the more reliable MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) tests, have sent a clear message to all Asian countries that age cheating will not be tolerated. They disqualified Korea, Tajikistan and Iraq from the 2008 AFC U-16 championships and then banned eight players during the 2010 event for trying to cheat the system. It looks like the bad old days of age cheating at international competitions has come to an end for the most part, though we still need to ensure a level playing field in domestic age-level competitions being played in Cambodia for this practice to be eradicated forever.