DAYS are numbered for ZIFA officials who are alleged to have sexually abused female referees after FIFA and the United Nations announced plans to establish global investigative network intended to tackle sexual abuse across all sports.
The association has been accused of sweeping under the carpet allegations of sexual misconduct that were raised against some members of the ZIFA Referees Committee.
The serious allegations formed part of the charges that were levelled against the suspended ZIFA board by the Sports Commission.
ZIFA and the Sports Commission are currently locked in a stand-off over governance issues and lack of transparency at the association.
FIFA are monitoring the events closely and are also reportedly keen on the resolution of the matter.
“The SRC is also in receipt of a report of alleged sexual harassment of female referees by key technical staff within ZIFA,” the statement by the sports regulator read.
“Despite several requests, for the matter to be decisively dealt with, ZIFA did not give the matter adequate attention in view of its gravity.
“Whereas the nation has made significant strides in empowering the girl child to be an active participant in sports, incidences of sexual harassment should be conclusively dealt with to enable a conducive environment for participation by all.”
This, according to the Sports Commission, could also have created a corporate culture within ZIFA were women are treated as inferior members of the association.
ZIFA claimed they did not receive any complaints of sexual abuse and urged victims to approach the head of the secretariat for further investigations.
But there is hope for the victims after FIFA announced the establishment of a global investigative network intended to tackle sexual abuse across all sports in the wake of the scandals in Afghanistan and Haiti.
Details of the plans are contained in a report commissioned by FIFA and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in response to what it described as “the challenging learnings of complex, devastating and serious sexual abuses in Afghanistan and Haitian football”.
As well as providing “trusted and accessible reporting lines” to report abuse in sport, the new body would include the creation of a “global network of investigators” who would collaborate with local law enforcement and Interpol to bring perpetrators to justice.
It has also proposed the introduction of improved integrity checks “to prevent perpetrators moving across jurisdictions and across sports” and the provision of “care support to victims, witnesses and whistleblowers”.
But Human Rights Watch and the international players’ union Fifpro questioned if FIFA was the right body to set up the network and criticised its record in tackling abuse cases.
The former Afghan FA president, Keramuddin Karim, was banned for life by FIFA’s ethics committee in June 2019 after he was found guilty of physically and sexually abusing several young female players from the national team.
In Haiti, Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haiti FA, was banned for life in November 2020 by the ethics committee for sexually harassing and abusing female players, including minors. Both scandals were exposed by the Guardian.
A FIFA spokesperson said: “The objective is to establish an independent, multi-sports, multi-agency, international entity to help sports judicial bodies investigate and appropriately manage cases of abuse using a survivor-centred approach.”
The final report was sent last month to more than 230 stakeholders, including the UK government and international sports federations.
FIFA has since appointed an independent secretariat that a spokesperson told the Guardian had been “mandated to form a representative working group of experts from around the world with the different skill sets required to establish the new entity in the second half of 2022”.
However, Minky Worden, who is director of global initiatives for Human Rights Watch and took part in the consultation process, has questioned FIFA’s suitability to lead the entity after its handling of the cases in Afghanistan and Haiti.
“Although HRW certainly participated in the safe sport entity consultation report, the production of reports does not in any way mean that the underlying problems are being addressed,” she said.
“The entity was a direct response to reporting of abuse by survivors in Afghanistan and Haiti but FIFA announced it was partnering with UNODC — and only afterwards consulted with those of us who are directly taking evidence of sexual abuse that is caused by the lack of safeguarding children and athletes and poor governance controls that already exist.
“FIFA does not have a fit-for-purpose system that allows care and protection of survivors; even when given the chance to do things right, the system is still badly skewed against survivors.”
A statement from Fifpro said: “It is positive that FIFA has initiated the process towards reaching such an objective. However, for any new entity to be an improvement, it must honestly and robustly tackle existing procedural flaws. In our overwhelming experience football players do not report abuse because the reporting mechanisms in the game are too closely linked with the power structures that enable abuse.
Put simply, they don’t trust the process to be impartial and safe and they don’t believe it will rigorously investigate everyone who participated, facilitated or ignored abuse.
“Therefore, any new safe sport entity must demonstrate its ability and willingness to hold both perpetrators and facilitators to account. It needs to prove that it is completely trustworthy and that it will ensure the painful reporting process is as manageable as possible for the courageous players who raise their voice.”
Last month, a report on European Union sports policy, prepared by MEP and former professional player Tomasz Frankowski, called on “all relevant actors to prioritise policies that safeguard children, promote healthy and active lifestyles and ensure safe, inclusive and equal sport”. — Sports Reporter/Guardian