Abused female refs take on Zhoya's accomplices

Obert Zhoya

Evelyn Shumba  of Shumba and Partners law firm, the lawyer representing female referees that were subjected to sexual abuse by former Zifa referees committee secretary-general Obert Zhoya, has challenged Fifa to go after the former’s accomplices.

Zhoya was handed a five-year ban by Fifa and fined US$20 300 after being found guilty of “abusing his position to sexually harass three female referees.”

Fifa released a statement this week announcing the verdict after investigations into the matter.

“The adjudicatory chamber of the independent ethics committee has banned Mr Obert Zhoya, former secretary-general of the Referees Committee of the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) from all football-related activities for a duration of five years, after having found him guilty of abusing his position to sexually harass three female Zifa referees. In addition, the adjudicatory chamber imposed a fine amounting to CHF 20 000 on Mr Zhoya,” Fifa said in a statement on Thursday.

Fifa said evidence including written statements from the women led to the charges against Zhoya being upheld.

“Upon careful analysis of the written statements of the victims as well as the various evidence collected during the investigations conducted by the investigatory chamber, the adjudicatory chamber was comfortably satisfied that Mr Zhoya had breached art. 23 (Protection of physical and mental integrity), art. 25 (Abuse of position) and, by corollary, art. 13 (General duties) of the Code of Ethics.  The terms of the decision were notified to Mr Zhoya today, the date on which the ban comes into force, and will be followed by notification of the grounds within the next 60 days in accordance with the Code of Ethics.”

Shumba welcomed the investigation and its outcome saying that for years, cases of sexual harassment in football had been swept under the carpet.

“Yes, we got this decision from Fifa after some investigations. But it raises more pertinent questions. There have been allegations of sexual harassment of female referees before and some of those referees have since retired. Zifa has been led by men all along and these allegations have never been investigated by Zifa, Caf or Fifa. For this case we tried to make a criminal case before we went to Fifa. The question is: what is going to be done to Zhoya’s accomplices because obviously he was not alone in this?” she queried.

One of the reasons that led to the suspension of the Zifa board by the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) was the refusal by the board to deal with allegations of sexual abuse.

It was alleged that Bryton Malandule, who was in charge of the referees in the board, was involved in cases of sexual harassment.

According to Shumba, the Fifa findings and decision strengthen the SRC’s case against the former Zifa executive led by Felton Kamambo.

Zimbabwe was suspended by Fifa earlier this year over government interference after the SRC had suspended the Zifa board.

Three board members, Kamambo, Philemon Machana and Malandule have since been sidelined.

“SRC suspended the Zifa board and one of the reasons was this issue and at the time Fifa was not doing anything about it. So what is going to be done about the Zifa ban now that Zifa and Fifa are now on the same footing? Fifa should now reconsider the suspension because it is affecting the development of the local game. This is a landmark ruling not only for the victims of abuse but also for the nation. We need answers from Fifa now because it’s clear that we need to bring sanity into Zifa so that the game can develop.”

Meanwhile, Zhoya and Malandule have been invited for a hearing by the Zimbabwe Gender Commission after the body received reports implicating them in cases of sexual abuse.

“. . . the Zimbabwe Gender Commission received a complaint pertaining to sexual harassment case from female soccer referees alleged to be perpetrated by the Zifa executive committee members. Notice is hereby given that the commission will conduct a preliminary investigation on this matter in order to establish facts and the current position from yourself and Zifa,” the letter dated August 24, read. 

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