The international players’ union has expressed “deep concerns” over the handling of the investigation into widespread sexual abuse in Gabon after it received allegations that individuals with close ties to the country’s football federation have issued threats against alleged victims and alleged witnesses “in an attempt to silence them”.
Fifpro has called on Fifa to intervene after several alleged victims and multiple alleged witnesses gave testimonies that claimed there were “a series of high-profile and serial abusers, who are deeply embedded in Gabonese footballing structures”. The investigation into allegations of widespread sexual abuse in Gabonese football over the last two decades was opened by the Gabon federation, Fegafoot, in December after Patrick Assoumou Eyi – known as “Capello” – was accused of raping, grooming and exploiting young players.
He and two other coaches are facing charges of raping minors and sexual assault after claims by alleged victims were reported by the Guardian, while Serge Mombo – a leading Fegafoot official – was arrested after being accused of sexually abusing young players and demanding sex as a condition of them securing places in national teams. All four have denied the claims.
Last month, Fifpro wrote to Fifa outlining its concerns that Fegafoot had a conflict of interest and was “therefore not fit for purpose to investigate such serious allegations.” But in a statement on Monday, it said that it had received no satisfactory response to those concerns and had therefore initiated a preliminary and independent investigation last year.
“The findings of those preliminary investigations are deeply concerning,” said the statement. “We have identified several [people] who spoke of a series of high-profile and serial abusers, who are deeply embedded in Gabonese footballing structures. These individuals were allowed to continue to abuse their position despite concerns being raised both publicly and privately with the most senior individuals at Fegafoot. Indeed, a review of public sources by our investigatory team show that senior Fegafoot officials acknowledged they knew about the allegations of abuse. In short, it was an open secret that was not addressed for years.
“Further, we have notified Fifa of concerning allegations that individuals with close ties to Fegafoot have issued threats against players and witnesses who may have evidence relevant to any investigation in an attempt to silence them. Fifpro has therefore again called on Fifa to ensure a competent and independent investigation takes place. We will continue to use our position and influence to ensure that the courage of the whistleblowers does not go unnoticed.”
Fifa confirmed in January that its independent ethics committee had opened an investigation into the allegations. A Fifa spokesperson subsequently told the Guardian that it had been in contact with Fegafoot and Fifpro regarding the investigation but would not comment further “since the matter is ongoing”. A spokesperson for Fegafoot told the BBC that Fegafoot itself “is also a victim” and said that its ethics committee would conduct an independent investigation.
Fifpro’s statement also noted that Fegafoot has failed to restart football since the pandemic, “despite receiving significant financial assistance as part of the Fifa Covid-19 relief plan”. No top-tier football is currently being played in the country, while Fifpro said that non-payment of the women’s national team players is “a recurring issue”.
“We have also received reports of a common practice in Fegafoot to retain and/or confiscate passports from players to make sure that players remain silent on various issues. Against this catalogue of failings, Fifpro has repeatedly expressed concerns about Fegafoot’s competence to manage a complex and sensitive investigation into sexual abuse.”
Fegafoot and Fifa have been approached for comment.