FIFA accused of failing Afghan sexual abuse victims | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 05.07.2019
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FIFA accused of failing Afghan sexual abuse victims

While FIFA celebrates women's football at the World Cup in France, it tramples it underfoot in other regions. It seems that for Gianni Infantino, the sexual abuse of Afghan internationals is merely an annoying sidenote.

Watch video 01:59

Afghan women footballers deal with abuse

"Dare to shine" is the motto of this women's World Cup. Posters with the advertising slogan hang everywhere to see in the cities and stadiums of France, and in a TV commercial, prominent players tell us what they understand these three words to mean.

"Free yourself. Get rid of the pressure, the tension, the prejudgements," says former Argentina player and current coach Pablo Aimar.

"You have the chance to become outstanding and special," says former German women's international Celia Sasic.

"In life people have to take risks, to believe, and to not be afraid of making mistakes," says arguably the greatest women's player ever, Marta of Brazil. 

While the best female footballers in the world are currently playing for the World Cup title in France, the Afghanistan national team players are fighting for something much more important than a trophy. They are fighting for dignity, identity and for the right to be heard. They have dared to speak out about something that is not generally talked about in their society – telling the world that they were sexually harassed, raped, and physically and mentally abused by officials from their own football association.

"They're giving up their entire life, their entire identity, everything that they've grown up trying to do – play for their nation and make their nation proud. They’ve had to give it all up," said their coach, Kelly Lindsey, with tears in her eyes and a faltering voice at a press conference in Lyon hosted by AFDP Global, an organization that promotes tolerance and respect in football. Now that the young women have had the courage to tell the truth, they've been forced into hiding. They can no longer show their faces, they are being shunned by their families – or their families are being threatened.

Less than eight hours later, Lyon hosted the second semifinal of the World Cup. Spectators from all over the world left the official FIFA fan shops empty and cheered on the two competing teams, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Afghanistan Frauenfußballmannschaft Trainerin Kelly Lindsey (picture-alliance/AP Photo/R. Harris)

Afghanistan coach Kelly Lindsey has been outspoken in her criticism of FIFA

'No one is listening '

"Last February, March we were doing a training camp in Jordan," Lindsey told DW. "While we were going through the training camp, players started having murmurs and complaints that two male officials from the AFF (Afghanistan Football Federation) were soliciting them, going to their room, having them come to their room. The girls weren't feeling comfortable. Concerns of sexual activity were going on, and abuse."

The former US national player immediately informed the AFF. The reaction? "These things happen."

It was also difficult for the women to make themselves heard at FIFA. When they finally did find someone willing to deal with it, it felt like an eight-month-long tennis match.

"It went back and forth between FIFA taking accountability and trying to pass it on: 'It's not our responsibility, the UN should be helping you.' Back to FIFA, back to the UN."

Lindsey didn't have the feeling that anything was actually being done.

"Many of the players were getting death threats, many of them were being abused at the time. We needed to make sure they were safe, we needed to get them out of the country so that they could speak the truth and help us understand what was really going on," Lindsey said. "It's terrifying to think that no one will listen to you and you just have to go through that in your country." 

Meanwhile, the football business carries on as if nothing had happened. The media are happy to celebrate the star players who have been campaigning for equality and against discrimination. Broadcasters, newspapers and websites were only too happy to report on US player Megan Rapinoe and her assertion that she is not "going to the f****** White House" if the Americans win the Women's World Cup. The subject of abuse, on the other hand, is a much harder sell.

'Sweeping it under the carpet'

One day after the start of the Women's World Cup, FIFA published a statement that you really had to dig for on its website, saing that it had "found Mr Keramuudin Karim, former president of the Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF) and former FIFA Standing Committee member, guilty of having abused his position and sexually abused various female players, in violation of the Code of Ethics." FIFA banned him for life and he had to pay a fine. No mention was made of other officials who are also said to have harassed the players.

Afghanistan Frauenfußballmannschaft (imago/Xinhua)

The Afghan women's football team was established in 1995

"Those accused are many members of the Afghan Football Association. The government of Afghanistan has been investigating. And one of the members, who's the secretary general of Afghan football, is banned from traveling," said Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, founder of AFDP Global. "At the same time, he was elected to represent Asia on the Asian executive committee. That is completely bizarre because he has passed Asian football confederation and FIFA integrity checks."

"We felt like it was FIFA brushing it under the rug," Afghanistan coach Lindsey explained. The lifetime ban of one man happened "to show the world, 'See we did something.' FIFA needs to step up to the plate and come up with systematic change to ensure that voices are heard, perpetrators are held accountable and the victims, the abused, are taken care of. It's just not enough what they're doing now."

Lindsey accuses FIFA President Gianni Infantino of inaction. 

"I would just tell him I'm disgraced. He’s not my president of football. He did not hold up the gold standard that should be held up by FIFA on human rights and women's rights. And I don’t believe he should be the president of FIFA after the way this case was handled."

Infantino will be at the Lyon stadium on Sunday when the world champions will be crowned. He will probably talk about the players having had the courage to shine as he presents the winner with the World Cup under a shower of confetti – but don't hold your breath waiting for him to say a single word about the Afghan national team players. 

Watch video 02:47

The girls who risk their lives to play soccer

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