Khalida Popal | Photo: Imago/Ritzau Scanpix
Khalida Popal | Photo: Imago/Ritzau Scanpix

Khalida Popal, player turned team director of the Afghan women's team, says she's worried that some of the men accused of sexually abusing players in Afghanistan will go unpunished. The allegations were denied by the Afghan FA last year.

The team director and former captain of the Afghan women's national football team has expressed concern that FIFA's investigation into reports of sexual abuse will see key figures in the Afghan Football Federation (AFF) go unpunished.

The ethics committee of world football's governing body, FIFA, has been investigating allegations that female players were subjected to sexual abuse and harassment by coaches and officials, and even raped by AFF president Keramuddin Karim between 2014 and 2018. Six members of the federation were initially suspended in December and remain so.

The committee's findings are expected to be published in the next few weeks, but Khalida Popal, who made the allegations to British daily The Guardian in November 2018, has reservations.

Speaking exclusively to DW before attending the 2019 Discover Football Conference in Berlin, the 32-year-old, said she is "looking forward to FIFA's decision" but admitted she is "worried that [FIFA] will only focus on the president of the AFF and leave out the General Secretary and others from the management team against whom we made the allegations."

Popal, who fled Afghanistan in 2016 and sought asylum in Denmark, said she first became aware of the abuse at a training camp in Jordan in February 2018, but has since learned that the abuse dates back as far as 2014. "My national team players were sexually abused," she reiterated.

"Some of them were raped by the president of the football association. They were sexually abused and mentally and physically harassed by some of the coaches.”

She told DW that Afghanistan remains a "male-dominated country" in which women have to overcome significant social and familial barriers in order to play football, and in which a stigma is attached to topics such as sexual abuse.

"When [players] are harassed or sexually abused, they cannot go back to their families and society and complain," she said. "Because they'll say: we told you that football is not for women."

A FIFA spokeswoman told DW that the organization is "strongly committed to promoting the safety and wellbeing of all individuals involved in football activities, especially potentially vulnerable people requiring specific attention and protection. FIFA has a zero tolerance policy on human rights violations and condemns all forms of gender-based violence."

First published: June 5, 2019

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