Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has called for an investigation into claims of sexual abuse of members of the national women’s football team, calling the allegations “shocking” and vowing to act immediately.
The president’s comments on Tuesday comes days after the Guardian newspaper published a story about alleged sexual and physical abuse of members of the women’s team by male officials, including the president of the country’s football federation.
“It is shocking to all Afghans. Any kind of misconduct against athletes, male and female, is not acceptable,” Ghani said after a meeting with the country’s attorney general.
“I ask the attorney general to conduct a thorough investigation compliant with our legal codes into the issue,” he added.
The Guardian report cited senior figures associated with the women’s team as saying the abuse took place in Afghanistan, including at the Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF) headquarters in Kabul, and at a training camp in Jordan last February.
The story quoted former captain Khalida Popal, who was forced to flee the country in 2016 and seek asylum in Denmark after receiving death threats. She said male officials were “coercing” female players.
The report published on Friday said FIFA, football’s world governing body, is investigating the claims, and an anonymous source told the Guardian that the organisation had been working with the United Nations on some players’ safety.
“FIFA has been fully aware of the situation in Afghanistan and has been working hard to secure the safety of the girls,” the UK newspaper quoted the source as saying.
Sayed Alireza Aqazada, AFF’s secretary-general, denied the allegations over the weekend, claiming they were “all baseless and untrue”
However, Hafizullah Wali Rahimi, president of Afghanistan’s Olympic committee, said such allegations were not new and that there had been similar complaints made in the past.
“The abuse by the head of federations, trainers, and sportsmen have always existed. We have had complaints in the past, and this is an undeniable fact,” Rahimi told local media on Monday.
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On Monday night, Ghani met officials from the Afghan National Olympic Committee, sportsmen and sportswomen, and pledged authorities would “conduct a thorough investigation into this.”
“Even if mere allegations (of abuse) cause our people to stop sending their sons and daughters to sports, we need to act immediately and comprehensively. I do not tolerate sexual abuse,” Ghani said.
“No power on Earth can abuse our children. We have to have a framework in place to mitigate such incidents in our sports,” he added.
Danish sportswear company Hummel announced it had cancelled a sponsorship deal with the team due to the allegations.
The attorney general’s office said it had already assembled a team to investigate the issue.
“I would like to assert in front of our athletes, the president and people of Afghanistan that we will proceed with this investigation transparently, justly and comprehensively,” said Attorney General Farid Hamedi
Afghanistan has made strides to promote female football and launched its first women’s football league four years ago which ran in parallel with the men’s, but in 2017 the female teams were sidelined by a lack of funding.
The Afghan women’s team is currently ranked 133rd in the world out of 147 playing nations, according to FIFA.