The Sunday Mail
GOVERNMENT yesterday threw its full weight behind the FIFA ban on former ZIFA Referees Committee secretary-general Obert Zhoya over allegations of sexually abusing female referees, with the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) indicating they want more officials from the former Felton Kamambo-led administration to face the music.
FIFA, through its Independent Ethics Committee, on Friday slapped Zhoya with a five-year ban from all football-related activities.
The disgraced Zhoya was also slapped with a US$20 000 fine.
In welcoming the decision by the world soccer governing body, SRC board member Karen Mutasa told a media conference in Harare yesterday that they want to see officials in the ZIFA leadership who tried to sweep the matter under the carpet brought to account.
Mutasa was flanked by SRC’s marketing and communications manager Elta Nengomasha and legal counsel Evelyn Shumba, who worked closely with the victims to crack the case.
The commission’s chairperson, Gerald Mlotshwa, and two other board members – Titus Zvomuya and Gail Van Jaarsveldt – also closely followed proceedings virtually.
Mutasa described FIFA sanctions on Zhoya as the “first step in ridding the game of football and indeed of all sport in Zimbabwe of sexual predators’’.
The local sports regulator, she added, was hopeful the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) would also expedite investigations on reports made against ZIFA board member for development Bryton Malandule and Zhoya.
Malandule chaired the referees’ committee, while Zhoya was the secretary.
“Obert Zhoya’s did not harass in isolation; these incidents are not peculiar to him alone, especially in football,” Mutasa said.
“He operated in an environment and culture that enabled him to confidently and blatantly prey on vulnerable women knowing full well that his deeds would be covered up by his colleagues within ZIFA.
“Those enablers must also be brought to account as they are accomplices.”
Inaction against allegations of sexual harassment, Mutasa added, were one of the reasons the commission had suspended Kamambo’s board.
ZIFA CEO Joseph Mamutse also stands accused of sitting on reports by victims.
The matter is also before the Gender Commission of Zimbabwe.
Mutasa said Zhoya had resigned from his post on the referees’ committee following pressure from the SRC.
“The Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) welcomes and endorses the decision of the FIFA Adjudicatory Chamber of the Independent Ethics Committee in its decision of September 1, 2022.
“The Ethics Committee found that Obert Zhoya had breached FIFA’s Code of Ethics concerning sexual harassment and accordingly banned him from football for a period of five years, effective immediately.”
During the latter part of 2020, the media extensively covered multiple allegations of alleged sexual harassment of female referees.
The alleged perpetrators were mainly officials responsible for the training, appointment and supervision of referees, including a member of the ZIFA board, Bryton Malandule, who was chairperson of the referees’ committee.
“Mr Zhoya’s resignation as secretary-general of the ZIFA Referees Committee was at the instigation of the SRC, which had demanded the restructuring of the Referees Committee as one of the conditions for the lifting of the suspension of the ZIFA Executive Committee following the extraordinary general meeting (EGM) of the ZIFA Congress in April 2022,” Mutasa said. “Formal complaints were made by the victims to ZIFA, but absolutely no action was taken by the ZIFA board to investigate these complaints either through internal mechanisms or through the police.”
“For example, on September 12, 2020, a female referee wrote to the ZIFA CEO highlighting that a number of female referees were experiencing sexual harassment at the hands of ZIFA Referees Committee secretary-general Obert Zhoya.
“On September 14, the female referee wrote directly to the SRC repeating the allegations.”
On November 10, 2020, the commission subsequently wrote to ZIFA advising of the complaints.
It also directed the association to investigate and submit a report by the end of that month, but the communication and various reminders later on were ignored.
Added Mutasa: “Similarly, allegations were made on September 12, 2020, by another local female referee in respect of sexual advances made to her on March 22, 2019, by Bryton Malandule, the chairman of the ZIFA Referees Committee.”
Again ZIFA reportedly did not act on the allegations. This is one of the reasons the secretary-general and executive committee were suspended by the SRC.
“The victims gave evidence to the FIFA Ethics Committee on incidents of sexual harassment. The victims, with the assistance of the SRC, also proceeded to formalise their complaints with the Zimbabwe Republic Police as well as the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, a body established in terms of Section 245 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.”
It is believed the ZRP already have an ongoing probe into Malandule and Zhoya.
Mutasa commended the witnesses for their bravery, including legal counsel Evelyn Shumba for guidance, and Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry, who also spent time with the affected referees.
“The SRC pays tribute to the three witnesses for their bravery and resilience in the face of intense covert and overt intimidation from persons who did not want justice to prevail.”
Shumba, who has been working with the victims for over a year, indicated that being with the victims had been a heart-rending experience, as some of them struggled to open up.
“Definitely, this decision by FIFA is quite ground-breaking to my clients, to all the women in Zimbabwe at all workplaces, because this is how they earn their living; it is their workplace,” she said.
“When they . . . asked me to help them, they had nowhere to start. They were fearful given that CAF, FIFA and ZIFA had ignored them for such a long time and it just didn’t happen for them.
“Others . . . were not brave enough and we are hoping that at this point time, the others who have been affected emotionally, psychologically and financially could come forward.”