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Eighteen Afghanistan men’s footballers to boycott World Cup qualifier

Most of the Afghanistan men’s team are boycotting their World Cup qualifier against Qatar next week in protest at what they describe as substandard treatment by the country’s football federation.

A letter, which has been seen by the Guardian, signed by three overseas-based players who were captains of the squad that defeated Mongolia in the first round of qualifying last month was sent to Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation this week outlining their complaints. They include allegations of serious corruption by the Afghanistan Football Federation.

“The last straw came at the last camp when a big group of us decided that we’d had enough – 18 players got together and said: ‘If we’re going to move forward, we have to put a stop to this,’” said Noor Husin, who plays for the National League side Southend United.

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“We really want change. We want to help domestic players because the money they are getting from Fifa is not being used in the right way. We have the worst flights possible and we have to stay in substandard hotels.

“We’ve come together as a group because we want football in Afghanistan to move forward and we believe that it’s not going to move forward with the people that are in charge at the moment.”

The captain, Farshad Noor, and his predecessor, Faysal Shayesteh, are the other players to have signed the letter, which demands Fifa investigates allegations that senior AFF officials have been misappropriating funds that are supposed to be invested in developing football in the country.

“Every year our federation gets financial support from Fifa and from the AFC,” said Shayesteh, who plays for the Indian side Sreenidi Deccan. “We want to show a positive Afghanistan to the world so we are asking Fifa to stop supporting our federation financially because the money is going into the pockets of a gang who is ruling football in the country.”

The AFF’s general secretary, Behram Siddiqui, has denied the allegations and said “such behaviour falls under the jurisdiction of Fifa’s compliance team. If these funds were taken from a sponsorship, it is imperative that the federation’s audit discloses this information. The previous general secretary (Fazil Mohammad Shahab) finalised the 2021 audit report and submitted it to Fifa.

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“Since the regime transition in August 2021, there has been no movement of funds from Fifa or any external sources to the football federation’s bank account. Therefore, any previous actions concerning this issue are not within my knowledge.”

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The players have also alleged that members of the AFF’s executive committee distributed half of the $30,000 bonus meant for the squad after making it through to the next round of World Cup qualifying among themselves. Siddiqui disputed this and said the players had been given $20,000, with the remaining $10,000 used “to cover our national team’s expenses during training camp, as we have not had any money in our bank account for the past 10 months”.

He added that the money was “used to pay for the domestic flights of the national team players from various provinces, as Fifa does not cover domestic flights for all players who have to join the national team”.

Shayesteh and his teammates have also claimed that members of the AFF leadership have been misappropriating money from air fare tickets of players for travelling to play matches. In documents seen by the Guardian, the AFF claimed back almost $65,000 from Fifa for a trip to the Central Asian Football Association Nations Cup in Kyrgyzstan in June that was initially expected to cost about $45,000.

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Noor HusinNoor Husin says at the last camp ‘a big group of us decided that we’d had enough’. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Siddiqui has denied the allegations and said the increase in costs was due to their original quotation from the travel agency having expired, meaning they were forced to buy the flights hours before they were due to leave. “Some players complain about not being provided with business class flights, which are typically used by professional teams,” he said. “However, the federation is unable to charter or pay for business class flights from its funds.”

The players’ letter also accuses the AFF president inflated bills covered by Fifa for hotel rooms – an allegation that was also denied by Siddiqui. “The truth is that all hotels send their invoices to Fifa, along with their bank account details. Once approved by Fifa’s compliance team, the money is directly transferred to the hotel’s account, which can take a considerable amount of time.”

It is understood that former Bradford and Wrexham defender Ashley Westwood has been approached to take over from Abdullah Al Mutairi, who was sacked after refusing to sign the match sheet before the qualifier against Mongolia. Westwood has yet to sign a contract due to apparent concerns about the dispute.

A squad of largely local-based players has been selected for the qualifier against Qatar, which is due to take place in Saudi Arabia after the AFF signed a deal for the country to host all of its home matches.

“We have been playing our home games in Tajikistan and that is the country where we have an advantage if you look at our results – even against Qatar we only lost 1-0 and we missed a penalty – because the weather is a big advantage,” said Shayesteh. “But now they have sold our home games to Saudi where the weather is hot so it’s not to our advantage.”

A Fifa spokesperson said: “Fifa was informed of these allegations very recently and is currently looking into the matter.”