Fifa investigating former Sierra Leone Women’s coach over harassment claims

Fifa is investigating allegations of sexual harassment by the former coach of the Sierra Leone women’s national team, the Guardian can reveal.

Abdulai Bah was suspended from his role as Sierra Leone’s coach in October 2021 after allegations of sexual harassment were made by three players. Fifa’s ethics committee has stepped in after the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) was accused of inadequacies in its investigation.

The international players’ union, Fifpro, said the SLFA failed to respond to repeated questions and has expressed doubts over the “scope and independence” of the SLFA’s investigation. Fifa is also looking at these allegations against the SLFA.

The players who accused Bah include the former under-20s captain, Bilkisu Kandeh-Turay. She alleged that Bah sent her pictures of his penis and pornographic videos in 2017 when she was 17 after complaining to him about conditions in the national squad.

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“We [would] just go there, train for two or three weeks, go for the competition but no money was given, no bonuses,” Kandeh-Turay told the Guardian. “We don’t get kits, proper food, medical facilities or transport. Nothing. I started raising these concerns and spoke with some FA officials. They said they were planning to do something, but they didn’t. I tried to talk to the head coach Abdulai Bah. He told me to keep quiet, that I can’t change the system. Then he changed the topic, told me he loves me and sent me his dick and porn videos and pictures.”

Kandeh-Turay, who claims Bah “asked her for sex every day”, first made her accusations as a guest on an internet radio show hosted by journalists Hawa Dauda and Desmond Paine at the end of October 2021. The FC Kallon goalkeeper, Zainab Conteh, also came forward as part of an online campaign. Conteh alleged that Bah had asked her for sex and pornographic videos of her private parts.

In a meeting with the director of Sierra Leone’s ministry of gender and children’s affairs at the end of October 2021, Kandeh-Turay said that she had raised the alleged sexual harassment several times with SLFA officials but that they refused to take action. She claims to have been told on some occasions to keep silent because Bah was “very powerful”.

The SLFA said it would investigate the allegations and suspended Bah for “professional misconduct”. He was later arrested and spent 11 days in police custody before being released on bail. Fifteen months on, a police spokesperson told the Guardian that Bah remained on bail “pending legal advice from the office of the director of public prosecutions as to whether to charge the matter to court or to discontinue with the investigation. They’re reviewing the evidence.”

William Fayia Sellu, who was the detective leading the investigation, said on a radio show in January that they had found “no evidence” to support the claims of sexual harassment. “Messages and phone calls are not enough,” he said.

Bah, who has dismissed the allegations against him as “completely untrue and unfounded”, is coaching the top-flight men’s side Old Edwardians.

In response to questions from the Guardian, a spokesperson for the SLFA said that it suspended Bah “based on overwhelming allegations against him particularly on social media” and had dropped the case due to “lack of evidence” .

“Following his suspension, SLFA set up a committee to look into the said issues and people alleging were requested to come forward and testify with evidencenobody showed up,” the spokesperson said. “We cannot therefore take any action against anybody without substantive evidence.”

The SLFA’s press release that called for alleged victims to come forward to give evidence did not include any way for them to get in touch securely and Fifpro has claimed the SLFA failed to respond to repeated requests to explain “the scope and independence of the investigation”.

“We were instructed by players to act for them in an investigation supposedly opened by the Sierra Leone FA in October 2021,” said a Fifpro spokesperson. “We wrote to the Sierra Leone FA in November 2021, asking various questions concerning its investigation, such as the scope and independence of the investigation, and the expertise and support available for victims, survivors, and whistle-blowers.

“Such information is indispensable for players to determine if they can trust the investigation and whether they would feel safe providing evidence. The Sierra Leone FA committed several times to answer our questions, yet it ultimately failed to do so, and continued to ignore our questions. Subsequently, we asked Fifa to take over the investigation.”