LONDON. – It has been nearly four years since Saima (not her real name) travelled to Jordan for a training camp with Afghanistan’s women’s team.
The trip was organised by Khalida Popal, a former head of the women’s football department at the Afghan Football Federation (AFF), who had been forced to flee the country in 2016 and seek asylum in Denmark.
It would end up being unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.
According to Popal, two male officials that had been sent by the AFF to accompany the squad repeatedly bullied and harassed her and other players.
“It continued,” Popal told the Guardian in November 2018. “These guys were calling on the rooms of the players and sleeping with the girls. AFF staff members would say to girls that they could get them on the team list and would pay them £100 a month if they would say yes to everything. They were pushing and forcing the girls. Coercing them.”
A few weeks later, Saima and eight other players were suddenly dropped from the national team and accused of being lesbians.
The AFF president, Keramuudin Karim, who had assured Popal that he would take “serious action” over the harassment claims in Jordan, was alleged to have beaten one of the players with a snooker cue after reports that she was considering telling her story to the media.
Popal began her own investigation and said she discovered that Karim, a former governor of Panjshir province and chief of staff in the defence ministry before he took over the presidency of the AFF in 2004, had been accused of multiple counts of sexual and physical abuse.
She said he even had a room inside his office containing a bed.
“The doors of his office (use) fingerprint recognition, so when players go in they can’t get out without the fingerprint of the president,” she claimed.
Popal and the team’s head coach from 2016 to 2020, Kelly Lindsey, a former US international, said they attempted to report their findings to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) but hit a brick wall.
“They basically said: ‘We can’t speak to you about this because you’re not a member association, we need your president or your general secretary to speak with us,’” recalls Lindsey.
FIFA seemed to take more interest at first.
One alleged victim told the Guardian that Karim had put a gun to her head after he punched her in the face and sexually assaulted her, before threatening to shoot her and her family if she spoke to the media.
“When we came forward and told our stories, of course Karim found out it was us, even though a good job was done to keep our identities out of the press,” Farzana says.
“Life became quite dangerous for us. Every day there were threats, we were continuously receiving phone calls from the federation, from Karim’s people, offering money and things, they were trying to buy us. That was scary and dangerous.”
Two days before Karim was banned for life from all football-related activity and fined 1 million Swiss francs in June 2019 after a FIFA investigation found him guilty of sexually abusing “various female players”, the Guardian revealed that FIFA had been made aware of sexual abuse allegations against Karim more than two years earlier. – The Guardian.