KABUL, Afghanistan — He was their nightmare, the young, female Afghan soccer players say: a menacing 57-year-old with two wives who locked the door to his back office with a biometric keypad that only he could open.
Many of those young soccer players, members of the women’s national team, lined up to accuse the man, the president of Afghan soccer, Keramuddin Keram, of sexually assaulting them in a bed he kept in that room, and elsewhere, charges they made both in public statements and to Afghan prosecutors. Women who rebuffed his advances were labeled lesbians and expelled from the team, according to eight former players who said that had happened to them.
Three months later, however, the investigation into sexual abuse in Afghan soccer is stalled, amid fears it will never proceed. It has yet to result in any criminal charges.
One of Mr. Keram’s accusers, the soccer player Khalida Popal, said he had actively pursued women who testified against him in Afghanistan, warning them to withdraw the charges. And witnesses like her who live in exile have not been interviewed in person by Afghan investigators, as required by law, because so far the investigators have not been able to get visas.
Mr. Keram remains the president of the Afghanistan Football Federation, which is in charge of men’s and women’s soccer, the country’s most popular sport, although he is suspended by order of the attorney general. And FIFA, the governing body for world soccer, has just extended Mr. Keram’s ban from participating in national and international soccer for three more months, as its own investigation, nearly a year old, grinds on.
Neither FIFA nor Mr. Keram responded to requests for comment.
Despite public support from President Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan investigation has run into a powerful lobby made up of supporters of Mr. Keram from Panjshir, a politically dominant province in northern Afghanistan. Once a local warlord and later governor of the province, Mr. Keram remains well connected with the Jamiat-i-Islami party, the major political force in the north.
Prosecutors have the power to arrest Mr. Keram but have not done so, though they have blocked him from leaving the country. “If the investigative committee thinks they need to arrest him, they will do so,” said Jamshid Rasooli, the attorney general’s spokesman.
Mr. Rasooli confirmed a report by ToloNews, an Afghan television news program, that two of the attorney general’s investigators had not yet obtained visas to interview witnesses in Europe, which has led to speculation that the visas were denied for fear that the investigators would claim asylum themselves. He said they had been waiting for the visas for more than a month.
Ms. Popal, 31, reached by telephone in Denmark, said she had heard from at least three soccer players in the past two months who withdrew their charges against Mr. Keram after they received direct, personal threats from him.
Two of the women answered calls from someone they knew, who then handed the phone to Mr. Keram. In the third case, the woman was walking to soccer practice in Kabul near the football federation offices when she was forced into a car with blacked-out windows, finding Mr. Keram inside, Ms. Popal was told.
“He told them, ‘I know you have been to the attorney general’s office and given testimony against us,’ ” Ms. Popal said. “ ‘Go and take back the testimony. You know I am a powerful person. Nobody will put me in jail. I will win this case. It’ll take some time, but then what will happen to you? Think about your future and what will happen to you and your family.’ ”
Ms. Popal said the three women, whom she declined to identify for their safety, had gone into hiding and were no longer willing to testify against Mr. Keram.
Mr. Keram did not respond to repeated efforts to contact him for comment. A spokesman for the Afghan federation, Shafi Shadab, who had earlier spoken on behalf of Mr. Keram, said Saturday that the attorney general had ordered him to have no further contact with the soccer chief. The federation’s Facebook page has posted a statement denying all of the charges.
Ms. Popal was one of the founders of women’s soccer in Afghanistan and remained active with the team after fleeing to Denmark, where she claimed asylum in 2011. She accused Mr. Keram of the rape and sexual assault of other players and claimed to have evidence that she had reported those claims to the federation early last year with no response.
“The president of A.F.F. and some trainers are raping and sexually harassing female players,” she said in a December interview. She earlier made similar claims in an interview with The Guardian.
In addition to Mr. Keram, four other members of the federation were suspended and banned from travel. The ban on one of them, the federation’s deputy president, Yosuf Kargar, was lifted in January after the attorney general’s office said it had found no evidence against him.
Mr. Keram appealed his suspension by FIFA but was denied.
Earlier, the sponsor of the Afghan national women’s team, the Danish sportswear manufacturer Hummel, withdrew its financial support over what it called “strong allegations of severe mental, physical, sexual and equal rights abuse of the female players by male A.F.F. officials.”
Last month, Kelly Lindsey, the American coach of the Afghan women’s team, urged FIFA to step in and take more concrete action. It could, for instance, ban the Afghan teams from competition.
“I think FIFA really needs to stand up here. They are the governing body of football and if they allow this to happen in their culture, then it’s easy for it to be pushed under the rug,” she said in an interview with Reuters.
FIFA has defended its actions, noting that it suspended Mr. Keram and is investigating the allegations. It added that it had “zero tolerance” for sexual abuse. Last week, FIFA said the head of its investigation had requested that Mr. Keram’s ban be extended for 90 days, and that the organization had agreed.
“During this time, Mr. Karim will continue to be banned from all football-related activities at both national and international level,” it said, using an alternative transliteration of Mr. Keram’s name.
Human Rights Watch weighed in last month, urging both FIFA and the Afghan authorities to move more decisively on their investigations. “FIFA, which said it began investigating these allegations last April, should share information with Afghan investigators and maintain a ban on accused officials,” the rights group said.
Mr. Rasooli said the Afghan attorney general was determined to fully pursue the case against Mr. Keram and the others accused. They have not been arrested, he said, because under Afghan law that would limit the time the authorities had to conduct their investigation.
“This is a complicated case,” he said. “We have interviewed 30 witnesses inside Afghanistan and that part of the case is almost completed.”
He added that the authorities still hoped to obtain European visas for investigators.
Ms. Popal said she was still hopeful that the investigation of Mr. Keram and his colleagues would succeed.
“I really respect and trust the committee in the attorney general’s office working on this case,” she said. “At the same time, I don’t know how powerful they are once the case is out of their hands. And he is a powerful guy, with so much influence inside the government.”
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