Kabul – Afghan football boss Keramuddin Karim on Monday rejected allegations he sexually and physically abused members of the women's national team, suggesting his accusers may have invented the claims to help their applications for asylum in Europe.
Karim has been accused of punching, raping and threatening female players, including holding a gun to one's head, in allegations first reported by Britain's Guardian newspaper in November.
An investigation into the claims is ongoing, but in an interview with AFP he was confident his name would be cleared.
"I strongly deny these allegations," said Karim, who has been suspended from his position as president of the Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF) pending the outcome of the investigation.
"This is a conspiracy. There has been no evidence or proof provided, only a number of unidentified voices, anonymous identities have made the allegations."
Karim said his accusers might be using the serious allegations to "seek asylum in Europe".
Or they might be people who are "conspiring to defame us, hurt us in the federation".
"They are inside and outside the country plotting against us," Karim said, refusing to name the people he was referring to.
Karim told AFP he was cooperating with investigators from Afghanistan's attorney general's office, which on Friday slapped a flight ban on five federation officials after suspending them from their positions.
Football's world governing body FIFA has also suspended Karim for 90 days.
"The attorney general will investigate to find out if there is any truth to the claims," Karim said.
"I personally am not aware of such things taking place."
– 'Beautiful and tight' –
One player has accused Karim of holding a gun to her head after punching her in the face and raping her in a secret bedroom near his office, the Guardian reported Friday.
Another accused the father of 11 of threatening to cut out her tongue after she escaped his unwanted sexual advances.
The Guardian previously cited what it described as senior figures associated with the women's team who said the abuse had taken place in Afghanistan, including at the AFF headquarters, and at a training camp in Jordan last February.
"As a father and a husband I have been affected (by the allegations), it has been painful," said Karim, who has two wives.
Karim said the allegations emerged after a dispute with former captain and now programme director Khalida Popal over clothing worn by some of the Afghan players in Jordan, which the AFF considered inappropriate.
"Khalida Popal has been at the centre of these allegations," he said.
However Hafizullah Wali Rahimi — president of Afghanistan's Olympic committee — said earlier this month that such allegations were not new.
"The abuse by the head of federations, trainers and sportsmen have always existed. We have had complaints in the past, and this is an undeniable fact," Rahimi told local media.
Popal fled Afghanistan seven years ago after receiving death threats, and has spoken out previously about the discrimination women face in the country.
She told AFP on Monday that she witnessed two Afghan officials "mentally and sexually harassing players" at the Jordan training camp.
One of the officials told a player "she looks so delicious from behind, it's beautiful and tight", Popal said in a WhatsApp message from Denmark.
Popal said she reported the incidents to Karim, who took no action. After launching her own investigation, Popal said she found "more than 12 girls and boys who were physically and sexually abused by the president".
"He never thought that someone would stand against this powerful guy who has been making the football federation as a kingdom," she said.