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    Afghan women’s soccer team accuses officials of sexual abuse

    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
    Rahmat Gul/Associated Press/File
    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

    KABUL — The Afghan government is investigating allegations that players on the women’s national soccer team were sexually and physically abused by male coaches and officials, including the head of the Afghan soccer federation, officials said Tuesday.

    President Ashraf Ghani said in a closed-door speech to the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee on Monday that he had ordered the investigation into the Afghanistan Football Federation in response to a report in The Guardian last week whose revelations he called “shocking to all Afghans.”

    FIFA, the world body regulating international soccer, is conducting its own investigation.

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    The scandal has prompted the team’s principal sponsor, the Danish sportswear company Hummel, to withdraw its support. “The documentation presented to us is not only an indication of gross misconduct and abuse of power by the AFF officials, it is in direct contrast to our values,” the company’s chief executive, Allan Vad Nielsen, said in a statement. “We have no other choice but to cancel the sponsorship.”

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    The accusations focus on Keramuddin Keram, the president of the Afghanistan Football Federation, which governs both men’s and women’s soccer, as well as other male officials from the federation.

    Khalida Popal, one of the original players on the women’s team and a longtime manager, said Keram had sexually harassed players in a bedroom in his office. She said that the bedroom had been rigged so that it could be opened only from the inside with his fingerprint scan, and that he trapped women there.

    “The president of AFF and some trainers are raping and sexually harassing female players,” Popal said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

    Popal fled Afghanistan in 2012 and obtained asylum in Denmark but has remained active with the national team, organizing training camps abroad.

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    When she organized a training camp in Jordan in February of this year, Popal said, she was shocked that the Afghan federation sent a male trainer and a male official to chaperone the team. One of the men got drunk and tried to force some of the women into having sex with him, including inside the women-only dormitory, and both of the men sexually harassed team members, Popal said.

    When the players threatened to complain, Popal told The Guardian, Keram, a politically influential former governor of Panjshir province, beat one of them with a snooker cue, and threw her and eight other women off the team, alleging they were lesbians.