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Zimbabwe FA investigating women’s team coach over sexual misconduct allegations

The Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) has confirmed it is investigating a member of its senior women’s coaching team over allegations of sexual misconduct against female colleagues.

The Guardian understands the allegations relate to a series of incidents said to have taken place during the current Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) women’s championship in South Africa. They include claims that the coach made inappropriate invitations to his room and “asked for sexual favours” – allegations first made in an article by the London-based journalist Melody Gwenyambira this week.

“The Zimbabwe Football Association has received a report of misconduct amongst members of the senior women’s technical team,” read a Zifa statement on Thursday. “The trip is accompanied by a highly qualified safeguarding officer who is on the ground to look into the matter.

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“The association takes a dim view of the matter and is currently carrying out independent investigations to get to the bottom of the allegations. The public is reminded that this is a sensitive subject and that they should not take unfounded steps that could compromise the investigations.”

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According to Gwenyambira, the allegations have led to serious concerns over the mental wellbeing of those affected. A female member of the technical team is said to have left one of the team meetings in tears after being “verbally harassed and degraded” in public. It is understood she has not been eating with the rest of the squad in an attempt to avoid the accused coach, who remains in the same hotel despite the allegations being made public on Tuesday.

Zimbabwe were banned from international football for nearly 18 months by Fifa after the Zimbabwean government suspended Zifa over financial irregularities and allegations of sexual harassment of female referees by technical staff. Last September the former secretary general of Zifa’s referees committee, Obert Zhoya, was found guilty of sexually harassing female officials and banned from all football-related activities for five years after an investigation by the Guardian.

Zimbabwe’s ban was lifted in July but Zifa remains under the control of a normalisation committee tasked with restructuring the organisation. According to Fifa’s statement that confirmed the lifting of Zimbabwe’s ban in July, it will also establish a collaboration agreement between the government and Zifa “which will define the responsibilities and objectives of each party, including the topic of sexual harassment”.

It is understood that Fifa’s safeguarding and child protection team have been in touch with members of the normalisation committee to request more information about Zifa’s investigation.