By Sonia Elks
LONDON, Feb 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Afghan officials cannot be relied on to properly investigate reports of sexual abuse of members of the national women's football team, their head coach said on Thursday, as she urged governing body FIFA to bring in new measures to protect victims.
Former U.S. international Kelly Lindsey spoke out after a panel laid out a series of recommendations aimed at protecting victims and cracking down on those found to have committed wrongdoing in the wake of the scandal.
"The women who raised their voices have taken an immense amount of pressure on their shoulders because it is life or death for them and their families," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview from Hong Kong.
"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."
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered an investigation in December after allegations that some players had been molested by officials from the country's football federation.
The Afghan Football Federation called the accusations "groundless" and said it would cooperate with any investigation. Its head and five other officials have been suspended.
A FIFA spokesman said the world football federation had "zero tolerance" for human rights violations and was already involved in addressing the Afghan abuse allegations.
This included measures to investigate the reports and to protect those who had spoken out, he said.
A panel led by former FIFA vice president Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan in London on Tuesday urged Afghan officials to fully investigate all claims of criminal wrongdoing and offer protection for players and whistleblowers.
"The culture in football needs urgent reform," said Prince Ali in a statement.
Panel members said new contracts that bar Afghan women's team members from speaking about the team and enforce wearing the hijab should be scrapped.
FIFA, the world football federation, was also urged to take action to prevent future abuse including establishing clear whistleblowing processes within the sport, and founding a fully independent body to investigate player sexual assault cases.
Member organisations found to be non-compliant should suffer sanctions such as financial penalties, suspension and expulsion, they added.
"It's important this is looked at seriously and taken care of, because Afghanistan in my opinion is not the only place this is happening," Lindsey said.
Afghanistan ranks as one of the most dangerous countries for women, and allegations of sexual contact outside marriage can have deadly consequences.
Married victims of sexual harassment are often extremely reluctant to come forward for fear that they will be accused of adultery.
(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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