A number of high-profile female footballers in Argentina have made allegations to Fifa of bullying, misconduct and sexual harassment against a youth-team coach working for the country’s Football Association. They say many players have been left suffering from a significant loss of confidence and self-worth, on and off the pitch.
A Fifa spokesperson said: “The independent Fifa ethics committee is currently looking into the matter. As a result, we have no further comment to make at this stage.”
The players, many of whom were teenagers when the alleged incidents took place, have accused the coach of threatening them with sexual violence following poor performances, including players as young as 14 and 15; of asking inappropriate questions about players’ sexual preferences and habits while one-on-one; of using sexist and homophobic language, including having described women’s football in the country as “puterio”, which translates as “group of whores”; and of arguing that homosexuality is holding back women’s football and that success depends on players being “feminine” as well as good.
The global players’ union Fifpro said in a statement that it had been assisting players in taking their complaint to the Fifa ethics committee and appealed for any others affected to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The players have submitted evidence to the ethics committee that alleges the coach used his position of power in the women’s game in Argentina to sexually harass and bully teenaged girls as young as 14 who were pursuing their dream to become footballers,” it said.
“In what should have been a safe environment, girls and women were subjected to threats and comments of a violent and sexually explicit nature. Because of the extremely serious nature of these offences, Fifpro has asked Fifa to immediately remove the coach from his current position where he may have access to and power over minors.”
The union’s senior legal counsel, Alexandra Gómez Bruinewoud, said she was “deeply troubled” by the allegations.
“Having individually interviewed these players we found the complaints both credible and coherent, and indicative of a pattern of abusive, discriminatory and damaging behaviour that undermines efforts to develop women’s football. The allegations are even more concerning because they pertain to the conduct of a senior and powerful coach in the country. We commend the courage of these players and are pleased to support their efforts to protect the wellbeing of their fellow players. The collective voice of players on this issue is very important in bringing about change.”
Speaking to the Guardian, one player urged Fifa to take immediate action against the coach: “Women’s football is facing a pivotal moment. If we are serious about growing the women’s game, it is imperative that Fifa takes this opportunity to model its purported zero-tolerance stance to abuse, by permanently banning this coach from football. As we rise, we must guard against those who opportunistically seek to exploit the players who make this game possible.”
The Argentinian FA said in a statement that it was not part of the process initiated by Fifa and did not know the identify of the coach or the players making the allegations. “The AFA will provide all the necessary collaboration in the investigation in the event that the competent body of Fifa so requires and will fully and absolutely abide by the resolution issued at the end of the process,” it said.
“The Argentinian Football Association will closely follow the evolution of the aforementioned complaint and, in view of its seriousness, will firmly take all the corresponding measures, as it has been doing throughout this management, in order to protect the integrity of our football players.”
Last November Fifa banned Yves Jean-Bart, the president of the Haiti Football Federation, from all football-related activities and fined him 1m Swiss francs (£827,000) after its ethics committee found him guilty of having abused his position and sexually harassed and abused female players, including minors. On Monday the ethics committee banned another former employee of the Haitian FA for 10 years as part of its investigation into sexual abuse claims.
Last July the court of arbitration for sport upheld a life ban imposed by the ethics committee on the former president of Afghanistan’s FA, Keramuddin Karim, after he was found guilty of abusing female players.