The Washington Post

An ar­rest war­rant

- BY SIOBHÁN O’GRADY AND SHARIF HAS­SAN siobhan.ogrady@wash­post.com sharif.has­san@wash­post.com Salahud­din Sayed con­trib­uted to this re­port. Crime · France · United Kingdom · Afghanistan · Denmark · Jordan · Human Rights Watch · Ashraf Ghani · Philadelphia Union · United States of America · Canada · Colombia · FIFA · Khalida Popal

was is­sued for the former Afghan soccer chief amid al­le­ga­tions that he sex­u­ally abused mem­bers of the women’s na­tional team.

kabul — Afghan of­fi­cials is­sued an ar­rest war­rant Sun­day for former na­tional soccer chief Ker­a­mud­din Keram amid an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions that he sex­u­ally abused mem­bers of the women’s na­tional soccer team.

The war­rant came a day af­ter FIFA, soccer’s world gov­ern­ing body, fined Keram about $1 mil­lion and banned him for life. At least five play­ers said he as­saulted and ha­rassed them be­tween 2013 and 2018.

Keram “abused his po­si­tion and sex­u­ally abused var­i­ous fe­male play­ers, in vi­o­la­tion of the FIFA Code of Ethics,” the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s in­de­pen­dent ethics com­mit­tee said in a state­ment soon af­ter the Women’s World Cup got un­der­way in France.

Al­le­ga­tions against Keram, the former pres­i­dent of the Afghan Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion, be­came pub­lic late last year when Bri­tain’s Guardian news­pa­per re­ported that play­ers from the women’s na­tional team had ac­cused him and other top soccer of­fi­cials in Afghanista­n of ram­pant sex­ual abuse and bul­ly­ing.

Khal­ida Popal, who cap­tained the team be­fore flee­ing Afghanista­n in 2016 and seek­ing asy­lum in Den­mark, said she learned about the al­leged cul­ture of abuse when sev­eral play­ers con­fided in her at a train­ing camp in Jor­dan last year.

Popal told the Guardian that Keram had a bed in a room in his of­fice that was ac­ces­si­ble only with his fin­ger­print. “When play­ers go in they can’t get out with­out the fin­ger­print of the pres­i­dent,” she told the news­pa­per. “While I was do­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion with th­ese play­ers I found out the huge ex­tent of the abuse, sex­u­ally, men­tally, phys­i­cally, hap­pen­ing from the pres­i­dent him­self.”

When sev­eral play­ers threat­ened to go to the me­dia, Popal said, nine were kicked off the team and ac­cused of be­ing les­bians, in an ap­par­ent at­tempt to in­tim­i­date them into si­lence. She said sev­eral of the play­ers were abused by Afghan soccer of­fi­cials while in Jor­dan for the train­ing she or­ga­nized.

Hu­man Rights Watch re­ported in Fe­bru­ary that at least 20 women had come for­ward with ac­cu­sa­tions against Keram and other of­fi­cials.

Keram has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions. He told the Guardian in De­cem­ber that “there has been no ev­i­dence or proof pro­vided, only a num­ber of uniden­ti­fied voices, anony­mous iden­ti­ties have made the al­le­ga­tions.”

Most of the ac­cusers spoke to me­dia out­lets on the con­di­tion of anonymity, cit­ing fears for their safety.

At the time, the Afghan Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion stood be­hind Keram, say­ing that it “vig­or­ously re­jects” the al­le­ga­tions, which it called “ground­less.”

Keram, who had not been ar­rested, did not re­turn a phone call Sun­day.

FIFA sus­pended Keram in De­cem­ber while it car­ried out its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the al­le­ga­tions, then ex­tended the sus­pen­sion in March. The case is an un­usual one for the body. Most of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s high-pro­file mis­con­duct cases in re­cent years have been re­lated to cor­rup­tion, not sex­ual mis­con­duct.

Afghanista­n’s at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice sus­pended Keram and five other Afghan of­fi­cials from the na­tional fed­er­a­tion in De­cem­ber. In ad­di­tion to the FIFA in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani or­dered a gov­ern­ment probe, but find­ings have not yet been an­nounced.

The scan­dal has roiled the ath­letic com­mu­nity in Afghanista­n, where women have to over­come enor­mous so­cial and re­li­gious ob­sta­cles to excel at sports. Hafizul­lah Wali Rahimi, the coun­try’s top sports of­fi­cial, said the al­le­ga­tions of wide­spread sex­ual abuse have made some Afghan par­ents still more cau­tious about al­low­ing their daugh­ters to join sports teams.

Rahimi wel­comed the ar­rest war­rant, say­ing that sports of­fi­cials have been un­der “enor­mous pres­sure” since the al­le­ga­tions were made pub­lic.

“My duty is to de­fend all ath­letes all over the coun­try,” he said. “We sup­port jus­tice for those ladies if they have been sub­ject to this ha­rass­ment.”

On Satur­day, Popal tweeted that the FIFA ban was a “big win.”

“To­gether we man­aged to clean the women’s foot­ball team from 1 of the abuser,” she wrote in English.

“We are not done yet,” she added af­ter Keram’s war­rant was an­nounced. “Women should be pro­tected.”

The U.S. am­bas­sador to Afghanista­n, John R. Bass, tweeted that the United States ap­plauded FIFA’s de­ci­sion.

Afghan “women must be sup­ported and pro­vided a safe work en­vi­ron­ment free from ha­rass­ment or as­sault, whether their work­place is a gov­ern­ment of­fice, school, pri­vate busi­ness, or a foot­ball pitch,” he said.

The scan­dal in Afghanista­n is just one on the minds of fe­male soccer play­ers this week as the world’s best teams com­pete in France. Al­le­ga­tions of abuse and ha­rass­ment of fe­male soccer play­ers have sur­faced in a num­ber of coun­tries, in­clud­ing Canada and Colom­bia.

Shamila Ko­hes­tani, the firstever cap­tain of the Afghan women’s na­tional soccer team, called it “heart­break­ing” that young women who had over­come all odds to play soccer said they had been vic­tim­ized.

Sex­ual mis­con­duct hap­pens all over the world, she said, but in Afghanista­n, it’s es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult to seek jus­tice be­cause the sys­tem has been stacked against fe­male ath­letes for so long.

“We ba­si­cally risk ev­ery­thing, our fam­ily’s lives, do­ing some­thing out of the or­di­nary, try­ing to make his­tory in Afghanista­n,” Ko­hes­tani said, speak­ing by tele­phone from the United States, where she lives. “And to have some­one like that who has power, who has money, who is tak­ing ad­van­tage of those women — it’s some­thing that is hard to swallow.”

Af­ter the al­le­ga­tions emerged last year, the team lost sponsors in­clud­ing Hum­mel, a Dutch sports­wear brand.

Af­ter all that women did to build up the Afghan na­tional team, Ko­hes­tani said, it was painful to see that it was al­leged mis­con­duct by men that dam­aged it.

“We worked re­ally hard to be where we are,” she said. “Now we have to start from zero.”

 ?? WAKIL KOHSAR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES ?? Ker­a­mud­din Keram has been fined $1 mil­lion and banned for life by FIFA, soccer’s world gov­ern­ing body. At least five play­ers for the Afghan na­tional women’s team said he as­saulted and ha­rassed them.
WAKIL KOHSAR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES Ker­a­mud­din Keram has been fined $1 mil­lion and banned for life by FIFA, soccer’s world gov­ern­ing body. At least five play­ers for the Afghan na­tional women’s team said he as­saulted and ha­rassed them.

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