The Current

Alleged sexual abuse destroyed World Cup dreams of Afghanistan women's soccer team, says former captain

In 2007, a group of women in Afghanistan came together to play soccer under their nation's flag for the first time, after years of living under Taliban rule. But recently players have come forward alleging physical and sexual abuse by members of the Afghanistan Football Federation. We talk to the team's founding captain, Khalida Popal.

Khalida Popal began her soccer career under Taliban rule

Former Afghanistan women's football captain Khalida Popal fled her country after receiving death threats but says it has far from cowed her in fighting the prejudice which confronts women daily. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Khalida Popal was concerned when young female players would suddenly stop coming to training for Afghanistan's national women's soccer team.

"They were our hope for the future, and all of a sudden we were missing those girls, all of a sudden, they would disappear from the team," said Popal, a founding member of Afghanistan's first national women's soccer team.
When she started to ask questions, Popal was shocked to hear her teammates allege physical and sexual abuse and harassment by members of the Afghanistan Football Federation. (Submitted by Aidan Taite)

When she started to ask questions, Popal said players alleged physical and sexual abuse and harassment by members of the Afghanistan Football Federation, all the way to the man at the top of the federation, President Keramuudin Karim.

Popal said it was heartbreaking when a fellow player "told me how she was sexually abused, and raped by the president of football federation himself, in his office."

Last month FIFA suspended Karim, pending an investigation. He denies the allegations, which have not been proven.

The Current  tried to contact Karim but did not hear back. He previously told the news agency AFP that the allegations are a conspiracy and that the players accusing him are trying to build claims for asylum.

FIFA provided a statement to The Current, saying that the organization "is strongly committed to promoting the safety and well-being of all individuals involved in football activities, especially potentially vulnerable people requiring specific attention and protection." 

The statement continued: "The matter is currently being addressed in a 'do no harm way' towards the victims, with reputable entities with which FIFA has formed a strong working relationship on human rights related issues  in recent years."

"Once the facts are established, whatever remedial measures needed will be taken," the statement said.

The Asian Football Confederation has issued a statement saying it — "vigorously rejects the false accusations made with regard to the AFF's women's national team", and that it has a "zero-tolerance policy towards any such type of behaviour."

We were so happy and hopeful, and all of a sudden this happened, and once again they tried to destroy the dreams that we had.- Khalida Popal

Living under Taliban rule, Popal had to play football in hiding in the early days of her career, fearing attacks from groups of men. But she went on to make history as the captain of the country's first female soccer team.

"In 2018 we came with huge and big dreams and hope to play in World Cup and represent our country," she said.

"We were so happy and hopeful, and all of a sudden this happened, and once again they tried to destroy the dreams that we had."

To discuss the allegations, Tremonti spoke with:

  • Khalida Popal, former captain of Afghanistan women's soccer team​
  • Shireen Ahmed, a sports writer who has started a petition for FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation to do more to support the team

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


Produced by Sarah-Joyce Battersby and Allie Jaynes.