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By Siobhán O’Grady and Siobhán O’Grady WorldViews reporter Email Bio Follow Sharif Hassan Sharif Hassan Reporter covering Afghanistan Email Bio Follow June 9 at 12:07 PM KABUL — Afghan officials issued an arrest warrant Sunday for form

KABUL — Afghan officials issued an arrest warrant Sunday for former Afghan soccer chief Keramuddin Keram, amid an investigation into allegations he had sexually abused members of the women’s national soccer team. 

The warrant came one day after FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, banned Keram for life and fined him $1 million, after at least five players said he sexually abused them between 2013 and 2018.

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Keram “abused his position and sexually abused various female players, in violation of the FIFA Code of Ethics,” the organization said in a statement soon after the Women’s World Cup got underway in France.

Allegations against Keram, the former president of the Afghan Football Federation, became public late last year when Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported that players from the women’s national team had accused him and other top soccer officials in Afghanistan of rampant sexual abuse and bullying.

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Khalida Popal, who previously captained the team but sought asylum in Denmark in 2016, learned about the alleged culture of abuse after she organized a training camp in Jordan last year and several players confided in her. 

Popal told the Guardian that Keram had a bed in a room in his office that was accessible only with his fingerprint. “When players go in they can’t get out without the fingerprint of the president,” she told the newspaper. “While I was doing the investigation with these players I found out the huge extent of the abuse, sexually, mentally, physically, happening from the president himself.” 

When nine of the players threatened to go to the media, Popal said, they were kicked off the team and accused of being lesbians, in an apparent attempt to intimidate them into silence. 

At the time, the Afghan Football Federation called the allegations “groundless.” 

But FIFA suspended Keram in December while it carried out its investigation into the allegations, then extended his suspension again this spring before announcing he would be banned for life. The Afghan government is separately probing Keram and a number of other Afghan soccer officials but has not yet announced its findings. 

The scandal has roiled the athletic community in Afghanistan, where women have to overcome enormous social and religious obstacles to excel at sports. The allegations of rampant sexual abuse have made some Afghan parents even more cautious about allowing their daughters to join sports teams, said Hafizullah Wali Rahimi, Afghanistan’s top sports official.

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Rahimi welcomed the arrest warrant, saying that sports officials have been under “enormous pressure” since the allegations were made public.

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“My duty is to defend all athletes all over the country,” he said. “We support justice for those ladies if they have been subject to this harassment.”

On Saturday, Popal tweeted that the FIFA ban was a “big win.” 

“Together we managed to clean the women’s football team from 1 of the abuser,” she wrote in English. “We are not done yet,” she added after Afghan officials announced the warrant for his arrest. “Women should be protected.”

The U.S. ambassador to Kabul, John R. Bass,  tweeted that the United States applauded FIFA’s decision, adding that Afghan “women must be supported and provided a safe work environment free from harassment or assault, whether their workplace is a government office, school, private business, or a football pitch.”

Salahuddin Sayed contributed to this report.

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