KABUL — Afghanistan women’s national team players have made detailed allegations to the Guardian of sexual and physical abuse they say they suffered at the hands of the president of the football federation, Keramuudin Karim.
The players, who say they are speaking anonymously because of fears for their or their families’ safety, have made claims ranging from serious sexual and physical assault to harassment and threats to themselves or family members from Karim.
One said Karim 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 Karim threatened, in front of her teammates at training, to cut her tongue after she ran off when being sexually assaulted and then attempted to remove her clothes on another occasion.
A third player alleged that Karim tried to kiss her neck and lips and that after she ran from the room she was dropped from the national squad and rumours that she was a lesbian were spread. One of the other players also claims Karim spread the same rumour about her.
Karim and four other members of the federation (AFF) were suspended by Fifa after the Guardian last month published allegations of abuse. Fifa said it was looking into the claims and an investigation was launchedby the Attorney General’s Office in Afghanistan.
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 after training when she went to Karim’s office to ask for money to cover transport costs. “I asked for help. He started trying to come closer to me. He said: ‘I want to come closer to you, I want to see your body.’
“I tried to ignore him, I was very polite to him. I said: ‘Listen, I need money for my transportation, I don’t have money. Can you help me? If you can’t, please let me go.’ He said he would help me and told me to wait. I said I wanted to go home. He said: ‘Don’t worry, I will give you money.’
“The president told me to follow him to the next room. So I went with him. I thought he was going to help me. I followed him into the next room. He went into another room and there was another room off that which was very dark. Inside that room there was a door. But you can’t see the door; it looks like the wall, it is hard to see it’s a door. It was open. In there it was like a hotel room, a bedroom with everything inside and a bathroom. He told me to go in. I went in, he was behind me and he locked the door.
“He told me to sit on the bed. I was worried, I was shaking. He said: ‘Today I want to find out what is behind your clothes.’ I was telling him: ‘Leave me alone, I want to go home.’ I stood up and I said I wanted to go home and he said to me: ‘Scream as much as you want, there won’t be anyone hearing you, they can’t hear you.’
“Then he started pushing me towards the bed. I stood up again. I said: ‘Leave me alone, I only came for support, I don’t want it any more, please leave me alone, let me go.’
“He was telling me … that today he would find out if I was a lesbian or not – because I was with girls a lot and I looked a little like a boy.
“I stood up and tried to fight, but he punched me in the face. I fell on to the bed. I tried to rise again and go to the door but because the door used his fingerprint is was not possible to open it without his fingerprint. So I couldn’t get out. He punched me on the face and on my mouth. Blood was coming from my nose and lips. He started beating me, I fell onto the bed, and 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. I went to the bathroom. I washed my face and put my clothes on. I went back and said: ‘I will go like this and I will tell the media what happened to me.’ He took a gun, his gun, put it on my 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.’
“Then he threw money at my face and told me to take the money and get out. He said he didn’t want to see my face. He opened the door and I left.”
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 and very dangerous 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 AFF 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. “I was not aware of his character,” she said. She claims Karim sat with her on a sofa. “He started talking and flirting with me. He started touching my body and then he tried to kiss me. I started crying, I was scared and I was panicking, I was trying to push him away.”
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 because it was destroying his image.”
She returned but, she says, her ordeal was far from over. “The president, whenever I was going to training, was coming on to the pitch and in front of everyone saying I was not polite, I talked a lot and was directly threatening me, saying he would cut my tongue to silence me. He was non-stop abusing me and harassing me.”
One day she says she was early for training at the federation. “I was sitting on the benches waiting for the rest of the team. He saw I was there on the security cameras. He started calling me on the phone. I was ignoring it so he came out himself and told me to come. I had to follow him, there was nothing I could do. I had to cross four doors – he had gone ahead and had me on the phone giving me instructions of where to go.
“After the four doors I was in a bedroom. It was like a five-star hotel with a mirror, modern furniture, a bed, women’s stuff, perfumes and stuff on the drawers. When I got there and saw that I started recalling the stories I had heard … I was scared and I started crying, I thought it was the end of my life.
“The president was naked and was on the bed waiting for me. When I started crying he got up and ran towards me and held me and was trying to pull my scarf and dress away. He was attacking and tearing at my dress. I was crying, I was screaming, I was struggling. I was very lucky. He received a phone call; I started screaming, he pushed me away and tried to silence me but I didn’t stop screaming. He had no choice then and he opened the door. When he opened the door I ran.”
A third player claimed she went to Karim’s office “to get his signature” when her ordeal started. “I was trying to push him away and he was trying to kiss my neck and lips. 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.
“I said I thought he was just a friend he was very social and he told me that ‘Our friendship is having sex at the end’. I said: ‘I hate to even hear these things, let me go.’ I was trying to push him away and I ran from the room.
“The first thing he did was take me off the list of the national team for a training camp abroad. 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 public support from various government officials including the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, offer hope, but all three players say trust is low. “I can’t trust the government,” one said. Another claimed: “Karim is a very powerful guy in government. He has a lot of influence and he has money – he can buy people.” She urged Fifa and foreign governments active in Afghanistan to take action.