Zambia’s coach, Bruce Mwape, has been accused of rubbing his hands over the chest of one of his players two days before his country’s historic victory over Costa Rica in their final match at the Women’s World Cup.
Fifa has confirmed it received an official complaint about the alleged incident after Zambia claimed their first win at a World Cup on Monday in New Zealand. Before the tournament the Guardian revealed Mwape was the subject of an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.
According to a source close to the squad, several players saw Mwape rubbing his hands over the chest of one of their teammates last Friday after training. “It’s not appropriate for a coach to be touching a player’s breasts,” said the source.
Witnesses are understood to have discussed reporting the incident immediately but decided to wait until after their campaign had been completed over fears that they would not be selected for unsettling the team. Zambia had already been eliminated after 5-0 defeats by Spain and Japan but finished third in the group after the 3-1 victory over Costa Rica.
It is understood the allegation against Mwape was reported to a Fifa delegate who has been with the squad throughout their stay in New Zealand. The Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) president, Andrew Kamanga, is believed to be aware of the incident.
A Fifa spokesperson said: “Fifa takes any allegation of misconduct extremely seriously and has a clear process in place for anyone in football who wants to report an incident. We can confirm that a complaint has been received in relation to the Zambian women’s national team and this is currently being investigated. We cannot provide further details regarding an ongoing investigation for obvious confidentiality reasons.
“Anyone who wishes to report allegations or information related to abuse in football can do so via Fifa’s confidential reporting platform, with all information that is submitted to Fifa handled in the strictest of confidence. In addition, Fifa offers support and assistance to ensure the safety of those who report a safeguarding issue, including witnesses who come forward and give testimony in Fifa judicial cases. Where guilt is established, Fifa takes the strongest possible sanctions, including removing people from the game for life. Our track record demonstrates this.”
The FAZ and Mwape did not respond to the Guardian’s questions but in a statement on Friday the FAZ’s general secretary, Reuben Kamanga, said: “We wish to state the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) has not received any such complaint from any of the players or officials in the delegation that travelled to the World Cup. It has therefore come as a surprise for us to hear of such alleged misconduct by the coach as reported in the said online publication.
“As a matter of fact, all the training sessions for the Copper Queens were filmed by the FAZ media team and offers no such footage as envisioned by The Guardian. Additionally, a Fifa film crew attached to the Zambian team at the World Cup was present at all training sessions.”
He added: “We however wish to reassure the public that FAZ maintains the highest standards of integrity and transparency and always demands unwavering ethical conduct of the players and officials on and off the field of play. We therefore would not hesitate to take disciplinary measures and act on any misconduct once we are in receipt of an official complaint or when presented with evidence pertaining to an alleged incident.”
Mwape was appointed by Zambia in May 2018 and helped them qualify for the World Cup for the first time. The FAZ said in September 2022 that it had referred an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse in the women’s game to Fifa. Mwape and the under-17s coach Kaluba Kangwa are understood to have been among the FAZ employees who were investigated. Kangwa has left his post despite no official announcement from the FAZ.
“If he [Mwape] wants to sleep with someone, you have to say yes,” one player who did not want to be named told the Guardian last month. “It’s normal that the coach sleeps with the players in our team.”
A Fifa spokesperson told the Guardian last year that it was aware of the accusations against Mwape and has been in touch with the FAZ over the case but could not comment on ongoing investigations.
Mwape has previously denied the accusations. “It has taken about a year now,” he said in New Zealand before Zambia’s first game. “You are still talking about the same allegations. As far as I’m concerned they are fake allegations.”
He was questioned about the allegations last week before Zambia’s second game but a Fifa media officer asked journalists to restrict their questions “to the football and to the tournament only”. Mwape went on to say that “the truth of the matter should actually come out”.
It is also understood that most of Zambia’s players and some members of staff have not been paid since competing at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago despite receiving assurances from the country’s president, Hakainde Hichilema, before the tournament. Some are believed to be owed as much as $60,000 (about £47,000), including a $5,000 win bonus for beating Costa Rica.
Fifa announced last month it would pay every player at the Women’s World Cup at least $30,000 after what the players’ union Fifpro described as the “outcome of tremendous global collective action by over 150 national team players” and months of “constructive negotiation with Fifa”. There are fears among Zambia’s players that they will not receive what they are owed because Fifa will direct the money via the national federations.
“We’ve issued recommendations, but we are an association of associations,” said Fifa’s president, Gianni Infantino, recently. “So whatever payments we do will be through the associations and then the associations will make the relevant payments to their own players.
“There are different situations in different parts of the world – taxation, residence and so on. I joke sometimes that we can’t artificially print money. If we could, that would be nice, but at the end we can distribute, we can pay what we generate.”