Afghanistan women's football: Sex abuse allegations

Clothes gone, blood everywhere

Afghanistan Football Federation boss Keramuddin Karim with the Fifa Fair Play Award after the Ballon d'Or Gala 2013 at the Kongresshaus in January 2014 in Zurich, Switzerland.
Afghanistan Football Federation boss Keramuddin Karim with the Fifa Fair Play Award after the Ballon d'Or Gala 2013 at the Kongresshaus in January 2014 in Zurich, Switzerland.PHOTO: TWITTER/RUHINSHABNAM PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
The Afghan women huddling before a game, as tweeted by ex-player Shabnam Ruhin.
The Afghan women huddling before a game, as tweeted by ex-player Shabnam Ruhin.PHOTO: TWITTER/RUHINSHABNAM PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Those who dared complain about association chief Karim were shamed, punished and threatened, and are not confident of justice

LONDON • One said he put a gun to her head after he punched her in the face and sexually assaulted her in a hidden bedroom accessed from his office, threatening to shoot her and her family if she spoke to the media.

Another claimed Keramuddin Karim, president of the Afghanistan Football Federation, threatened - in front of her teammates at training - to cut out her tongue after she ran off while being sexually assaulted, and then attempted to remove her clothes on another occasion.

A third player alleged that he tried to kiss her neck and lips and that after she ran from the room, she was dropped from the national squad and accused of being a lesbian.

In the wake of the announcement that 56-year-old Karim and four other members of the federation have been suspended by the Attorney-General's office in Afghanistan, several members of the Afghan women's national team have revealed to The Guardian what they suffered at the hands of the federation chief.

All the allegations have been put by The Guardian to Karim, who has not responded to requests for comment.

One player said she was targeted when going to Karim's office to ask for money to cover transport costs.

He made clear his intentions, telling her, "I want to see your body", but also promised to give her the money.

FEELING HELPLESS

When I woke up, all my clothes were gone and blood was coming from my mouth, nose and vagina. (He said) I can shoot you in the head and everywhere will be your brain. If you want your family to be alive, you should keep quiet.

FIRST PLAYER, who knows that by speaking up she is putting her family at risk.

NO WAY OUT

I was feeling so weak and I couldn't share my story. At the same time I was receiving phone calls from the federation and especially from the president, pushing me... He also was directly threatening me, saying he would cut out my tongue to silence me.

SECOND PLAYER, on being put down in front of everyone when she returned to the team after running away because of the abuse.

BOOTED OUT

I was telling him to behave and that he was the age of my grandfather and how could he do it? The first thing he did was take me off the list of the national team for a training camp abroad. He then accused me of being a lesbian and kicked me out of the federation.

THIRD PLAYER, on the price she paid for fighting back.

He then instructed her to follow him to the next room but this turned out to be a journey through three rooms and ended with her being locked in one which was like "a hotel room, a bedroom with everything inside and a bathroom".

When she said she wanted to leave, he told her: "Scream as much as you want, there won't be anyone hearing you, they can't hear you."

She tried to fight him off but he punched her in the face and she fell onto the bed. She tried to flee the room but found that she could not get out because "the door used his fingerprint, it was not possible to open it without his fingerprint".

He continued assaulting her and then "everything went dark".

"When I woke up, all my clothes were gone and there was blood everywhere. I was shaking, I didn't know what happened to me. The bed was covered in blood, blood was coming from my mouth, nose and vagina."

When she threatened to inform the media about what he had done, he put a gun to her head and said: "See what I have done to you? I can shoot you in the head and everywhere will be your brain. And I can do the same with your family. If you want your family to be alive, you should keep quiet."

He then threw money at her face and told her to take it and get out.

Unable to tell her family what had happened, she made up a sporting injury.

"I did not feel well. I found out through friends in the team that the president had spread a rumour that I was a lesbian and that he had caught me with another girl and that is why I was kicked out. That was depressing for me."

Her decision to speak out is not without risk.

"I know that my family is in danger and I know they will be when more comes out. But I want to stand and speak about it because of the future of girls. I want girls to have a safe environment."

She said Karim's behaviour was widely known inside and outside the squad. "It became acceptable around women's football, his behaviour."

Why was it not reported to the authorities?

"He has huge power inside the system and inside the government," she said of Karim, a former governor of Panjshir province and chief of staff in the ministry of defence before he took over the presidency of the football federation in 2004.

"No one can stand up against him because he is so powerful… Today the girls can't raise their voice because they are afraid.

"They can get killed."

A second player said she was asked to go to Karim's office by a member of the federation. There, he sat with her on a sofa and tried to kiss her. She says she screamed, attacked him and was able to escape his grasp. For one month, she says, she hid.

"I was feeling so weak and I couldn't share my story. At the same time I was receiving phone calls from the federation and especially from the president, pushing me, pressuring me to come back."

She returned but, she says, her ordeal was far from over. At training, he would - in front of everyone - denigrate her, saying she was "not polite" and that she "talked a lot".

"He also was directly threatening me, saying he would cut out my tongue to silence me," she said.

On another occasion, she was early for training and was saved from being sexually assaulted only by a phone call, which forced him to release her.

A third player claimed she went to Karim's office "to get his signature" when her ordeal started.

"I was telling him to behave and that he was the age of my grandfather and how could he do it? He told me he didn't know why I was behaving weird with him, that I was so friendly with him outside."

After she rejected his advances, "the first thing he did was take me off the list of the national team for a training camp abroad", she said.

"He then was insulting me in front of everyone and accused me of being a lesbian and kicked me out of the federation."

She claims she witnessed the verbal abuse of the second alleged victim: "She was crying, everyone saw, he was insulting her."

The investigations and expressions of outrage from various government officials including the Afghan President, Mr Ashraf Ghani, who called it "shocking for all people of Afghanistan" and demanded a thorough investigation, offer hope but all three players say trust is low. "I can't trust the government," one said.

One player has urged Fifa and foreign governments active in Afghanistan to take action.

The governing body of world football says it is looking into the claims and has suspended Karim for 90 days "which may be extended pending proceedings".

Afghanistan attorney-general M. Farid Hamidi on Friday placed the five officials on a "no-flying list" and banned them from travelling outside the country.

On the same day, former team captain Shamila Kohestani wrote a blog on the Free Women Writers site about the abuse, saying it is "my duty to speak in solidarity with the team members who have come forward with stories of violence and harassment".

She expressed disappointment with how Mr Ghani had framed the issue, noting that his statement saying "the honour of our women is the honour of our country" was "problematic" because "it reinforces the very same ideas that lead to violence against women".

"Tying women's respect to men's honour is what leads to honour killings and sexual violence. I am disappointed that we are not thinking about women as individuals and humans but instead are thinking of them as the honour of the whole nation."

One of the players is not hopeful that justice will prevail despite the voices of support.

She said: "Karim is a very powerful guy in government. He has a lot of influence and he has money. He can buy people."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 30, 2018, with the headline 'Clothes gone, blood everywhere '. Print Edition | Subscribe