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Fifa investigating accusations of sexual abuse against refereeing instructor

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Fifa has confirmed its ethics committee is investigating allegations of sexual abuse and harassment made against one of its refereeing instructors and the Colombian Football Federation’s head of referees.

Óscar Julián Ruiz, a Colombian who officiated at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups and has worked as a Fifa instructor since June 2011, has been accused of sexual harassment by 11 alleged victims and more than 30 witnesses. Imer Machado – the director of the FCF’s referees commission – is also facing claims of sexual abuse and harassment from 14 alleged victims and witnesses.

Ruiz, who has strenuously denied the accusations, was investigated in 2019 by the Colombian authorities after facing claims he raped a minor and sexually harassed three fellow referees. That case was “archived” after a judge ruled there was not enough evidence against him. However, a detailed new application for it to be reviewed that has been seen by the Guardian was sent by lawyers on behalf of one of the officials, Harold Perilla, on 7 March. It alleges Ruiz sexually abused and harassed several more referees and some claim he also forced others to have sex with him in order for them to obtain promotion.

Machado, another former international referee, has also been accused of sexual abuse and harassment, including claims that he touched another official’s penis and testicles in front of other people. It is understood that Colombia’s attorney general is considering whether to review the case in light of the new evidence.

“We have taken note of the information provided in your enquiry and can confirm that the independent Fifa Ethics Committee is currently looking into the matter,” said a Fifa Ethics spokesperson. “Please understand that no further comment can be made at this stage.”

The application details claims from Perilla, Carlos Chavez and Julian Mejia that Ruiz repeatedly sexually harassed them during their careers as well as several new allegations, including that he had sex with a male referee who was only 13 at the time. “The facts and evidence show the pattern of sexual harassment behaviour by Ruiz towards Colombian professional soccer referees over several years,” it alleges.

“Óscar Julián Ruiz isn’t the only one,” Perilla told the Guardian. “We also have Machado, the director of the referees commission and former international referee. He tried with me too, I filed a complaint and I’m not the only one. Ruiz touched my penis during a preseason. He asked me to have sex with him. That’s how I could get promoted. Machado also touched my penis and even my testicles in front of other people. That’s why I filed the complaint because it’s the same method. In Colombia, unfortunately, most of the people have to give sex to become an international referee.”

Ruiz said that “none of the facts are consistent with reality”, adding: “I lasted 16 years as an international referee and was never investigated. I have carried out more than 200 international activities, tournaments, courses, seminars with referee instructors from around the world and I have never been accused.”

The FCF did not respond to a request to comment on the claims against Machado.

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