Senior Sports Reporter
FIFA and CAF have confirmed they are aware of the investigations going on in Zimbabwe over the alleged sexual harassment of female referees by some top ZIFA officials.
The world football governing body, FIFA, which claims to have a zero tolerance to issues of human rights abuses, has been accused of ignoring the complaints made by the victims, who also have volunteered to disclose evidence of the transgressions.
The plight of the victimised female referees has caught the attention of the international media and yesterday respected English daily newspaper, The Guardian, revisited the matter, as calls for justice to prevail continue to gather momentum.
The allegations made against ZIFA’s Referees’ Committee chairman, Bryton Malandule, and secretary-general, Obert Zhoya, have since been reported to the local police.
The Zimbabwe Gender Commission have also acknowledged receipt of the complaints and are doing their bit to try and get to the bottom of the matter.
The duo, however, are still walking free and they have been trying hard to cover up their mischief, which was high among the reasons why the ZIFA board was suspended by the Sports and Recreation Commission late last year.
FIFA and CAF yesterday revealed to The Guardian that they are aware of the allegations of the sexual harassment of the female referees by some named ZIFA officials and that investigations were taking place.
“The FIFA ethics committee is aware of the allegations and a process is ongoing in accordance with the rules of competence set out in article 30 of the code of ethics. Please understand we cannot comment further at this stage,” a FIFA spokesperson told the Guardian.
A CAF spokesperson said: “CAF is aware of the matter. We have been in touch with the relevant authorities in the country (Zimbabwe) because it is now a matter being handled by the relevant competent authorities in that country. There is nothing further CAF would say at this stage.”
In December last year Joyce Cook, FIFA’s chief social responsibility and education officer, said FIFA had referred the sexual harassment allegations to CAF for three months because it “did not have the competence to investigate and judge such conducts”.
The comments by FIFA and CAF came after some of the victims had accused the two football bodies of silence over the allegations.
The allegations were also sent to FIFA, CAF and COSAFA. It was not until the alleged victims reported the claims to the police, in December last year, that a formal investigation was launched.
One of the alleged victims, who did not want to be named, told the Guardian that she had not officiated since making the complaints and felt “emotionally drained” by the whole experience.
“ZIFA is a huge disappointment,” she said.
“I’ve told myself I can never rely on them. I had high hopes that FIFA would intervene and fight to defend us female referees but they let me down as well.
“My question is why would FIFA go silent? I’m not saying they have to rush and make my case a first priority but at least show me that you’re keen to assist me.”
One alleged victim said she had been “humiliated, intimidated and degraded” by Zhoya, claiming she had received a series of WhatsApp messages from him asking for her to spend the night with him in a hotel.
“I would like to put on record that he had been making these unwelcome sexual advances since September 2019,” she wrote in a letter to ZIFA.
“The allegations I make herein are backed by evidence in the form of phone call voice recordings. I then got the courage from the evidence I had, and learning that I’m not the only one (who) was subject to this harassment.
“I have been on the ZIFA (referees) panel since 2019, I’m 30 years old. I expected to be treated with respect, not like a lady of the night. I, however, request you to look into the matter and possibly address the issue and in the process protect me and my fellow female referees who are suffering silently.”
Another official accused Malandule, who is also a member of the (suspended) ZIFA board, of making “sexual advances” towards her in March 2019.
Contacted by the Guardian, Malandule said: “I am sure that you appreciate that when issues are before judicial bodies, one cannot comment as per the sub judice rule.”
Zhoya had not responded to the Guardian’s request for comment at the time of publication.
Another experienced referee claimed she has been “frozen out” of officiating at matches for offering support to the alleged victims. She claimed several more officials are too afraid to report abuse claims because of the way the cases have been handled.
She said: “These reports were made immediately when the stories came out and we have gone more than a year without anything being done or any feedback.
“I think FIFA should have kept in touch with the victims to reassure them that they are still working on it. By going quiet, it seems like it is a minor issue. The girls feel very, very bitter about their experiences.”
In November, the entire ZIFA board was suspended by the Sports and Recreation Commission over “several incidents of gross incompetence” that the SRC described as “contrary to the national interest”.
As well as alleged mismanagement and lack of accountability in the use of public funds, it cited the allegations of sexual harassment of female referees.
The suspended board members are also facing revolt from within after the ZIFA councillors called for an EGM this Saturday to revoke the mandate of the suspended board members.
The net is closing in on sexual predators in football as a global investigative network intended to tackle sexual abuse across all sports is due to be established by FIFA and a United Nations agency this year.
This follows the revelation of similar the scandals in Afghanistan and Haiti.