Allegations of Sexual abuse rock Zambia Women National Soccer teams -Copper Queens

Copper Queens

Copper Queens: FAZ Must Deal With Reports Of Sexual Abuse In All Girls’ National Teams

When the United States gymnastics team was hauling Olympic medals, few knew that behind the successful run by the girls were undercurrents that would later shock the global sports community.

It took one report after another to compel the US Senate Judiciary Committee to summon members of that team to testify under oath. That testimony brought to light what members of the gymnastic team endured at the hands of the people who were entrusted to groom them.

Before then, there were revelations compiled by publications such as IndyStar, an Indianapolis-based newspaper, detailing at least four instances in which the girls were sexually abused with complaints reaching as far as the police. Little or no significant action was taken (US Today, June 24, 2020).

Coaches like Marvin Sharp, Mark Schiefelbein, James Bell and William McCabe were named in the abuse of the girls. The crescendo of the complaints was not until revelations were made public by some of the victims to lawmakers.

A sport that produced stars like Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and many others was blighted with what many a parent dreaded – their young girl child who was out there trying to explore the world using her God given talent being abused.

A physician, one who swears to serve lives, was found culpable of going beyond the call of duty to expose the girls to untold misery. He was entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the fitness of the athletes but Dr Larry Nassar had no boundaries. He pleaded guilty consequently earning more than 100 years in jail..

Traces of the narrative of the USA Gymnastic team are not too different from what is obtaining with our high-flying Copper Queens.

Those entrusted with overseeing the team are aware of complaints of sexual abuse concerning the girls national team but are paying a blind eye.

For as long as the girls are producing good results, their welfare is seemingly none of anyone’s business. Yes, the Copper Queens are 2022 Women African Cup of Nations (WAFCON) Bronze medallists and are heading to Australia & New Zealand for their first ever 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

They recently just won the 2022 COSAFA women’s title, all first time achievements within 12 months. They deserve our applause. They deserve the kudos.

In the same way the girls deserve our kudos and salutation, they deserve our protection as a country and global community.

At the heart of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations tournament which Zambia went on to eventually mint bronze, the journalist in me wanted to publish and be damned (that’s what I learned in my early journalist training). But the patriotic Zambian in me was mindful of the consequences.

I still promised my audience, whether one person or two, that I will publish the information delivered to me. It’s now a few months since that pledge; I have been swarmed with other duties but a pledge is a pledge.

I am informed there are a lot of sexual abuse cases going on at all the women’s national teams – that is under-17, 20 and the senior national team. Some members of the technical bench are being cited for abuse to an extent that some players are allegedly selected not because of the competitive advantage they bring to the team, but how well they have welcomed these advances or put differently, they have succumbed to incessant advances by some of these coaches.

The situation has gone on for years now. Some of the girls, I am told, attempted to bring a complaint to a named non-governmental sports organization to help them address the situation but nothing has happened.

At one international tournament, the situation was so bad that it nearly created a rift on the technical bench which nearly spilled into public domain. The player allegedly at the center of the chaos at the said international tournament has never seen a call-up again. Her alleged conspirator on the technical bench survived. How?

Why only one party in that drama – a player was seemingly expelled with no reproach to the other party on the technical bench – remains a mystery. FAZ, which boasts of a functional Ethics Committee, can provide the best answers. But so far, it would appear they don’t want to disturb the glory these girls are bringing to the dust-ridden trophy cabinets and so, out of convenience, are ignoring such unacceptable behavior.

A member of the technical bench who some minors have complained of is still in charge of these girls.

The girls are actually warned that even if they complain, nothing will happen to the perpetrators. Instead it is the girls who would lose out on opportunities that eventually land them lucrative professional deals abroad. And true to their words, nothing happens to these perpetrators because we have authorities that are seemingly accessories to this misconduct.

What makes it worse for the girls is that most of them come from less privileged societies such as Bauleni, Chibolya, Pamodzi, Garden, Chawama, Sinya or Chipulukusu. A breakthrough in football is all they have to turn the fortunes of their livelihoods, so to them, silence is golden.

Some of these players are traumatized and to some extent, psychologically disturbed. I am told there’s bullying of young players at the hands of some star senior players to switch into some orientation that’s alien to them. All this goes unreported because no one is available to protect them.

The FAZ Executive Committee led by Andrew Kamanga can’t claim to be oblivious to these reports surrounding the team, but like the authorities in charge of the USA Gymnastic body, they are looking elsewhere since the Copper Queens are delivering results.

Even with its battered image, FIFA attempts to show some semblance of responsibility. Since 2020, FIFA failed to take action regarding reports of sexual abuse among female referees in Zimbabwe. But three weeks ago, the world soccer motherbody came back sheepishly and announced a verdict banning Zimbabwe football official Obert Zhoya for five years for sexually abusing three female referees.

There are those, mostly praise singers, who will attempt to dismiss this information relating to sexual abuse of members of the Copper Queens as speculative. Granted, issues of sexual abuse or indeed sexual affairs can be complex to discuss or investigate especially where consenting adults are concerned. But when such reports concerning minors and unfair exclusion from the team are made, it is incumbent on those who are in authority riding on the so-called integrity, accountability and transparency song to subject them to an inquiry to protect the victims and exonerate the accused.

In this case, I am afraid the current FAZ ExCo is not competent to investigate these reports because they have played deaf to the silent cries of members of the team.

It seems the FAZ structures dealing with Ethics were only set up to protect the desire by office bearers to stay in office rather than promote ethical behavior across all levels.

It’s therefore incumbent upon Zambian authorities to take an interest in these reports of sexual abuse at all the national teams and subject them to a thorough investigations to ascertain the veracity and extent of the situation while ensuring that victims are protected.

NOTE: Failure to protect our girls from being molested amounts to abetting such mischief. FAZ will do well not to engage in public relations drama but deal with the issues at hand. You never know what is already out there that is not being said.


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