Sun, Mar 31, 2019 - Page 11 News List

Afghan women’s soccer left in tatters

‘WISH I WERE NOT AFGHAN’:At least seven players have alleged sexual abuse by soccer officials, prompting many parents to urge their daughters to give up playing

Reuters, KABUL

Allegations of sexual abuse of members of Afghanistan’s national women’s soccer team by sport officials have resulted in missed paychecks after sponsors pulled out, taunts and entreaties from parents to their daughters to quit playing.

FIFA in December last year suspended the head of the Afghan Football Federation and several other officials.

The federation has called the allegations against its president, Keramuddin Keram, “groundless.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered an investigation after the Guardian in November last year reported that senior figures linked to the women’s team alleged that some players had been molested by federation officials.

The treatment of the players, even those who have not alleged sexual abuse, illustrate the Afghan culture’s complicated approach to handling matters involving women’s sexuality and participation in sports.

The national women’s team was only formed in 2010. Some Afghans oppose women playing sports.

Since the investigation was launched, so many players have stopped training that friendly matches outside Afghanistan have been canceled, said Arzu Rahimi, who is responsible for women’s soccer at the federation.

At least seven players have made allegations, although they have not been identified publicly. Five of the players who have made allegations did not respond to requests for comment.

Parents, alarmed by public treatment of players since the allegations, have urged their daughters to give up soccer.

“My mother told me not to go to federation, university or even outside the house anymore,” said Samea Hamasi, 25, a member of the team for seven years.

Players who were in Uzbekistan for a series of matches in November faced taunts from Afghans living there.

Players sobbed in the dressing room in Tashkent’s stadium and had to be coaxed to take the field, many with tears in their eyes.

“After what people have put us through, I say to myself that I wish I were not an Afghan at all,” Samea said.

Fereshta Shaikh Miri, 23, has played for the team for five years.

“Before I was proud to be a member of the team, but now it is a stigma to be part of the team and I feel ashamed to mention that I am part of the national football team,” she said.

The men’s team, receiving government support, has begun spring training, but training has been canceled for the women.

Dubai-based Alokozay Group, a company with a ubiquitous presence in Kabul selling soft drinks, tissues and tea, last month pulled its US$850,000 annual contribution to the federation, following Danish sports brand Hummel, which canceled its sponsorship in late November.

The federation is now solely funded by FIFA, the Asian Football Confederation and the government.

“All the achievements of the national football team would be impossible without [Alokozay’s] support,” federation supervisor Yusuf Kargar said. “After all the rumors about the abuses of female players, they are looked at negatively by the public.”

Alokozay had canceled its sponsorship because of an administrative vacuum resulting from the allegations, the company said in a statement last month.

In a statement in November, Hummel cut ties with the federation citing its “unacceptable behavior.”

The investigation of the players’ allegations is at an early stage, said Mohammed Sadeq Farahi, head of the crime investigation department for the Afghan Office of the Attorney General.

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