Whistleblowers question FIFA’s inaction over ‘widespread’ Afghan sexual abuse

August 8 – Two of the leading figures behind the campaign to expose sexual abuse by Afghan officials have gone back on the offensive accusing FIFA of not doing nearly enough and calling for far more concrete action.

In a widely distributed emailed letter to FIFA president Gianni Infantino and other senior executives, Kelly Lindsey, Head Coach of the Afghanistan Women’s National Team and Khalida Popal (pictured), its programme director, accuse FIFA of foot-dragging and demand a far wider probe into the alleged culprits.

Last month Lindsey, one of those who blew the lid on the conduct of banned federation chief Keramuddin Karim, blasted Infantino personally, accusing him of not acting responsibly enough to stamp out the practise.

Lindsey charged that apart from Karim – banned in June for life after FIFA’s ethics committee found him guilty of abusing his position and sexually abusing female players –  FIFA had done precious little to punish other alleged culprits. More than 75 current and former players have so far signed a global petition calling for female players to be better protected.

FIFA was quick to respond to Lindsey’s remarks saying it was “surprised and disappointed” by her “ill-informed and unjustified” remarks and adding she knew full well that others are being scrutinised.

But in the latest tit-for-tat exchange,  Lindsey and Popal, who was forced to flee Afghanistan and seek asylum in Denmark after receiving death threats,  said in a joint missive that no action had still been taken against several individuals apart from Karim even though they had been identified by players as being directly or indirectly linked to the case.

“Accounts and evidence provided to you named other individuals as well, and referred to a widespread culture of abuse, with complicity at all levels of the AFF.”

“The accounts mention numerous other individuals, including senior individuals in ongoing positions of power, who committed sexual and physical abuse and/or failed to report abuse even though they knew or ought to have known of the abuse and/or sought to cover up abuse,” said the letter which was copied to FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura  and ethics chiefs Maria Claudia Rojas and Vassilios Skouris.

“This, and the apparent inaction from FIFA since these concerns were raised, has allowed that culture of abuse to continue to thrive in the AFF.”

“It is also worth noting that the financial mismanagement of the AFF, long known to you, is intricately intertwined with the abuse and amounts to important evidence in support of the allegations you received.”

“We therefore now kindly ask that you confirm in writing and within 7 days that further investigations have indeed been commenced, and that you have conducted a suitable risk-assessment to identify who should be notified of the same to secure their safety. “

FIFA once again said it was looking into the claims.

“As far as the letter sent by Ms Lindsey and Ms Popal is concerned, we can confirm that FIFA is carefully looking into allegations that have been made against additional persons,” a statement said.

“As stated before, FIFA will not hesitate to impose sanctions if and when justified, just as it recently did in the case of the President of the Afghanistan Football Federation, who has been banned from football for life.”

“We understand that criminal investigations are underway in Afghanistan with regard to some of the matters relating to this complaint and, for its part, FIFA hopes that all those guilty of such crimes will be brought to justice by the relevant authorities and will be held fully accountable.”

The full Lindsey/Popal letter is below:

Dear FIFA President Gianni Infantino, FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura, Chairwoman of the Ethics Committee Maria Caudia Rojas, and Chairman of the Ethics Committee Vassilios Skouris, 

Further Sexual and Physical Abuse Investigations in AFF 

We write further to our previous and extensive correspondence with you and/or your FIFA colleagues in regards to sexual, physical and emotional abuse of players associated with the Afghanistan Women’s National Football Team.  

As you are undoubtedly aware, we notified FIFA on a number of occasions of our deep-seated concerns for the safety of our players, having received multiple accounts of widespread sexual abuse in and around the Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF).  

On receipt of those notifications, we were asked by FIFA to gather further evidence. We did this to the best of our abilities, reluctantly, in our own time without any professional guidance or expertise, and at significant cost to our safety and wellbeing. We were dismayed at the time that such a task should fall to us, as the Head Coach and Program Director of the Afghanistan Women’s National Football Team, but we also felt we had no choice: our players’ lives were at risk and we felt compelled to act. 

Our efforts ultimately led to extensive evidence being submitted before the Ethics Committee, resulting in a lifetime ban and substantial fine handed down to the President of the AFF, Keramuddin Karim. 

However, the accounts and evidence provided to you named other individuals as well, and referred to a widespread culture of abuse, with complicity at all levels of the AFF.  The accounts mention numerous other individuals, including senior individuals in ongoing positions of power, who committed sexual and physical abuse and/or failed to report abuse even though they knew or ought to have known of the abuse and/or sought to cover up abuse. This, and the apparent inaction from FIFA since these concerns were raised, has allowed that culture of abuse to continue to thrive in the AFF. It is also worth noting that the financial mismanagement of the AFF, long known to you, is intricately intertwined with the abuse and amounts to important evidence in support of the allegations you received.  

Indeed, you and/or your colleagues were alerted to these potential offences and breaches of the Ethics Code on a number of occasions. These include but are not limited to complaints and media reports of sexual and physical abuse of boys and girls as young as 14: 

  1. A formal complaint alleging abuse of girls was emailed to your staff on 19 April 2017, including to the official integrity-reporting email account and Secretary General of FIFA Fatma Samoura. This complaint referenced senior AFF staff;  
  2. An in-person report to Sarai Bareman, FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer, in Jordan on or around 15 April 2018;  
  3. A report made by Kelly Lindsey via the BKMS whistleblowing system on the FIFA website, naming five individuals in April 2019 reference number 163ce; 
  4. An email from Kelly Lindsey to Emilio Garcia Silvero, Chief Officer of the FIFA Legal Division date 14 March 2019 and again on 25 March 19, cc’ing Carlos Schneider Salvadores, FIFA Head of Disciplinary.   

We are of the firm opinion that each of these individual communications triggered your duty to investigate all identified individuals immediately. Cumulatively, there can be no doubt that you should have acted immediately.  

Indeed, on receipt of these complaints two things should have occurred. First, you should have commenced a full and proper investigation  (which does not rely on our capacity to gather evidence). You have a duty to ensure that the power and finances you provide to individuals and organisations is not misused and abused – especially where that abuse leads to children and women being subjected to horrific sexual and physical violence.  

We are not aware whether this investigatory process has indeed commenced, but we fear it has not: even as laypeople there are some obvious leads that any proper investigation should pursue. To our knowledge this has not occurred.   

Second, should such an investigation have been commenced, we and the victims should have been notified. On multiple occasions, the perpetrators of abuse in these cases, and their numerous associates, have threatened the victims in a brazen and public manner. You are fully aware of these risks, not least because you supported various urgent submissions – founded on these very concerns – to secure a safe and private location to the victims. You are also no doubt aware that Khalida has become a targeted hate figure for those who support the abusers, and that her location is well known. These very tangible risks should quite clearly be given precedence when balancing the privacy of those subject to the complaint (whose identity has already been repeatedly mentioned in the press) against the safety of our players and their families.  

As none of the victims or whistleblowers have received any such warning, we can only conclude that you have either failed to commence a further investigation, or that you have failed to adequately take the abovementioned safety concerns into consideration.  

In the event that no proper investigation has been commenced we now ask you, again, to commence a further investigation into the additional individuals who have been brought to your attention. To that end, we also wish to highlight recent news reports further substantiating our concerns, and which again trigger your duty to investigate.  

Last month, the BBC reported that the Afghanistan Attorney General’s Office has brought criminal proceedings against multiple further individuals in connection with charges relating to “rape, sexual harassment, abuse of duty and concealment.” (reported by BBC Persia). This report makes reference to a number of individuals beyond the former AFF President. These include:  

  • The AFF General Secretary; • The person responsible for the goalkeeper committee; • The person responsible for provincial ties; • The secretary of the AFF President; and  • A security officer. 

 Other than the last of these, we believe these positions correlate directly to the names previously provided to you.  

We therefore now kindly ask that you confirm in writing and within 7 days that further investigations have indeed been commenced, and that you have conducted a suitable risk-assessment to identify who should be notified of the same to secure their safety.  

Yours sincerely”

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1566694721labto1566694721ofdlr1566694721owedi1566694721sni@w1566694721ahsra1566694721w.wer1566694721dna1566694721