FIFA bans former Afghan general secretary in sexual abuse inquiry

(Reuters) - Sayed Aghazada, the former general secretary of the Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF), has been banned for five years and fined after FIFA's ethics committee found him guilty of violations relating to the abuse of female players.

The world soccer body said in a statement that the investigation concerned complaints lodged by several female Afghan football players against former AFF president Keramuudin Karim.

Karim was banned for life in June.

The female players' complaints related to sexual abuse between 2013 and 2018, at a time when Aghazada, who is on the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) executive committee, was general secretary.

"In its decision, the adjudicatory chamber ruled that Mr Aghazada was aware of this abuse and had the duty to report and prevent it according to the FIFA Code of Ethics," FIFA said on Friday.

"Consequently, the adjudicatory chamber found that Mr Aghazada had breached ... the FIFA Code of Ethics and sanctioned him with a ban ... for five years. In addition, a fine in the amount of 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,000) has been imposed."

Aghazada was also a FIFA standing committee member.

FIFA said Aghazada was notified of the decision on Friday, with the ban from all football activities nationally and internationally coming into force immediately.

The AFC acknowledged the decision in a brief statement while refraining from comment.

The FIFA ethics committee said it was still looking into allegations against other officials as part of the investigation.

Afghan women's coach Kelly Lindsey and programme director Khalida Popal wrote to FIFA boss Gianni Infantino in August to say that the soccer body needed urgently to widen the investigation.

They said action had yet to be taken against several other individuals named by players as being directly or indirectly linked to the case.

The Guardian newspaper reported last November that some members of the national women's team had said they were molested by AFF officials at the federation's headquarters and at a training camp in Jordan.

Aghazada told a news conference in Kabul in December that the allegations were "baseless".

The AFF also warned then that the report could lead to threats against members of the women's team.

Afghanistan is ranked as one of the most dangerous countries for women, and allegations of sexual contact outside marriage can have deadly consequences.

Victims of sexual harassment are often extremely reluctant to come forward for fear that they will be accused of adultery.

The national women's team was formed in 2010. Some conservative-minded Afghans oppose women playing sports.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis and Gareth Jones)