FIFA investigates player abuse
Women representing their countries in various sports are rarely safe from physical abuse. The last time it came out in the open was when the US Gymnasts team were proved right on their abuse claims. Now, FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, is investigating allegations that male officials from the Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF) sexually abused players on the women's national team. The allegations led to Danish sportswear brand Hummel cancelling its sponsorship deals with the AFF and demanding the resignation of the federation's president, Keramuddin Karim. In a statement, the company said it "was presented with strong allegations of severe mental, physical, sexual and equal rights abuse of the female players by male AFF officials." According to Khalida Popal, a former Afghan player and currently the programme organizer for the women's national team, the abuse took place during a seven-day training camp in Jordan at the end of January this year. Popal, who was forced to flee Afghanistan and now lives in Denmark, was present at the Jordan training camp. She said that at least five women were abused in their rooms by two male officials, who had been sent by the AFF to accompany the players. The players are not yet willing to speak to the media publicly, fearing for their safety and that of their families. The officials would invite the players to their rooms, and when they declined, the officials went to the women's accommodation, she said.
Some of the women, Popal said, came to her in tears, while another had a bruise on her neck. Shamila Kohestani, who was the first captain of the Afghan women's national team in 2006 and the recipient of ESPN's Arthur Ashe courage award said she experienced similar abuse. "While I was on the team in Afghanistan I faced multiple instances of sexual harassment and was constantly in fear of my safety and the safety of my family," she said. A FIFA source revealed that the organization had been working to ensure the safety of the players concerned, and had called in help from the United Nations. Small wonder that it issued a statement that their main concern at the moment was to make sure that the girls still in Afghanistan are not in danger so they are working with the United Nations, as there is only so much within the football structure that can be done. Compounding the picture is a "draconian" new contract issued by the AFF, revealed by the Afghan players on social media last week, that they had been asked to sign which would strip the female players of a number of rights. Such bullying tactics by a male-dominated body can only lead to worse.