Red card

Former star player accuses Afghanistan’s top soccer official of raping players in his office

Former Afghanistan women's football captain Khalida Popal attends a training session in south London on March 30, 2018. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

Afghanistan’s government is leading an investigation of the country’s soccer federation after a former player accused the head of the Afghan soccer federation and other male officials of sexually harassing and raping players on the women’s national team. In a phone interview on Tuesday, Khalida Popal, a founding member of the women’s team and a longtime national team manager, alleged that Keramuddin Keram, the president of the Afghanistan Football Federation, would trap players in a bedroom in his office that could only be opened from the inside by a digital scan of his fingerprint.

“The president of A.F.F. and some trainers are raping and sexually harassing female players,” she said.

Popal, who fled Afghanistan and found asylum in Denmark in 2012, had continued to organize international training camps for the women team despite her exile. At a February camp held in Jordan this year, she said, the Afghan federation broke with traditional protocol by sending a male trainer and a male official to chaperone the team’s trip. Both men, she said, sexually harassed the players. One of the men, she added, also tried to force himself on players inside the women-only dormitory after getting drunk. When the players objected, Popal told The Guardian, Keram himself beat them with a snooker cue and banned eight women from the team — including Popal herself — after accusing them of being lesbians. The male officials, she said, were not punished for their actions but instead “promoted to other federation jobs.”

Both FIFA and the Afghan government are now investigating her claims, which the Afghan soccer federation has denied. In a recent statement, the federation claimed that it has retained “the vocal support of its current female players, who have all published statements on the A.F.F. Facebook page.” There was only one statement of support on the Facebook page, from former team captain Farkhunda Muhtaj, and the post contained no mention of the abuse charges. The team captain before Muhtaj, Shabnma Mobarez, quit the position last month after accusing the federation of attempting to prohibit her from criticizing the organization as part of her contract.

In a similar case in 2016, the head coach of the Afghanistan women’s national team, Haji Abdul Sediq Seddiqi, was accused of repeatedly marrying and divorcing his cyclists under duress. Seddiqi was fired in wake of the claims, but never faced legal action for his alleged crimes.

For more on the story and to hear Popal discuss the accusations, watch the video below.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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