‘Explaining this is not easy’: how sexual abuse allegations rocked football in Gabon

More than 30 players allege they have been victims of sexual abuse in Gabon’s football system since the early 1990s

“It all started in the early 90s,” says Armand Ossey. “I was only a teenager at the time, but like almost all my teammates we saw this take over our football.”

Born in Libreville, Gabon’s capital, Ossey – a footballer who went on to play for Grenoble and Rouen in France and Moreirense in Portugal – is one of the few players in Gabon to have spoken publicly about allegations of sexual abuse in football, a subject which he describes as “absolute taboo”.

“The feeling of shame predominates,” he says. “A lot of my friends have been there and don’t want to talk about it. Explaining this in our society is not easy. That’s why I’m talking, too.”

The same story has been repeated by many players who have contacted the Guardian since we revealed that Patrick Assoumou Eyi – often known as “Capello” – was accused in December 2021 of raping, grooming and exploiting young players. Eyi was arrested and charged in Gabon. It is understood that Eyi is awaiting sentencing after admitting the charges against him.

The Guardian has spoken to more than 30 players who have opened up about the sexual abuse they say they have suffered in the Gabonese football system. The players’ allegations span three decades and relate to a large number of people. This is how, the alleged victims argue, it has been able to continue for so long. The new allegations include claims against a prominent Gabonese politician, a coach working in the country and an agent living in France. The claims have been denied by all the men.

Fifpro, the international players’ union, expressed “deep concerns” over the handling of an investigation by Gabon’s football federation, Fegafoot, into allegations of widespread sexual abuse “over at least the last two decades”. It called on Fifa to intervene after several victims and multiple witnesses gave testimonies that detailed “a series of high-profile and serial abusers, who are deeply embedded in Gabonese footballing structures”. Fifa has yet to respond to a request for comment over Fifpro’s concerns, although in February it said that “the matter is being handled in line with Fifa’s code of ethics” and that it had been in contact with the Gabonese Football Federation and Fifpro.

Three decades

Ossey claims one of the instigators was a Cameroonian who coached at USM Libreville, a leading club in Gabon. Ossey says: “We called him ‘Prési’, but in reality his name was Jean Bahoken. He made me strip naked, put me in front of pornographic films and tried to abuse me.” Ossey says he was “lucky” to escape the worst.

“Prési was one of the main abusers,” says Juste, a player who has spent his career in Gabon. “When I was at USM, he called me into his office. He said to me: ‘You are a good player, but you lack presence of mind!’ That was their phrase used by him and Capello: presence of mind. According to them, they had to infuse us with ‘presence of mind’ by abusing us. They said this is what was going to make me a great player who could withstand the pressure.”

Bahoken died when he returned to Cameroon in the early 2000s. But witnesses allege Eyi, who knew Bahoken, continued a campaign of abuse. Eyi – a former boy scout who performed as an acrobat for the cirque de l’Équateur, which has represented Gabon at international festivals since the 1990s – started coaching at Orambaka and took charge of some of the country’s best young talents.

“We had an incredible team,” recalls Shiva Star N’Zigou, a striker who went on to play for Nantes and Gabon. “Eyi made me proposals, like many other people. It’s an open secret. The 90s were the beginning of paedophilia in Gabonese football.”

Shiva N’Zigou
Shiva N’Zigou played for Nantes and Gabon’s national team. Photograph: Frank Perry/AFP/Getty Images

Alleged victims say Eyi promised a career to players from disadvantaged backgrounds, but imposed conditions for playing. “He told us about the great players who had slept with him to appease us,” says a victim who preferred to remain anonymous. “I let myself be taken in like that. He quoted names to me, called a club in France in front of me … I was a child, I told myself that this was really how you made a career. So when the possibility of an international tournament arose, we did not think about the conditions.”

In this case, it was the Montaigu tournament in France – one of the most important in the world for the under-17 age group. “Montaigu was a unique opportunity to show us,” N’Zigou says. “All the young people wanted to go there.”

Alleged victims claim that Guy Mandarano, a businessman who also acts as an agent, also abused them at Montaigu. “He started at the start of the 90s and did not hide,” says one. “To go to France, we had no choice anyway, he told us.”

Mandarano, founder of the Ermöglichen club in Gabon, represented the gateway to Europe dreamed of by so many young players. “He is one of the bosses of Gabonese football,” maintains a player who says he was sexually abused by Mandarono when he started puberty. “I was 13 or 14 … He told me that there were conditions, that professional players must do things to reach the top level. He mentioned names to me, even a Gabonese international, which reassured me. In Ermöglichen, it was the norm and we accepted it.”

Several other alleged victims have made similar claims about Mandarano, who lives in France. He told the Guardian the allegations were “a tissue of lies”. He said: “How could I encourage or deliver my players to be traumatised and sexually abused? Doing this is going against my dream.”

The former Gabon striker Brice Makaya was part of the Panthers’ team that reached the quarter-finals of the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations. He says he voiced his concerns over alleged sexual abuse in 2014 when employed as a coach by Fegafoot. “I did not wait for the scandal to alert the authorities of our football,” he says. “During a match in Ethiopia with the Under-17 selection where I was assistant to Eyi, I showed a young person’s phone to Pierre-Alain Mounguengui, the president of Fegafoot. Eyi had sent photos of a man with a wig and lipstick to a young kid, telling him that he too had a nice mouth and that he wanted to kiss it. And I was told that was not proof …”

Engouma Bertrand, Fegafoot’s technical director at Fegafoot and regional technical director of the province of Ogooué-Ivindo, is alleged by several of the 30 players interviewed to have also abused players while he was employed at USM between 2006 and 2015. In 2016 he moved to Fegafoot. “This gentleman is a monster but he still works at the federation,” claims a former player.

Bertrand – known as “Nono del Bosque” – did not respond to questions from the Guardian.

‘Political power’

Hervé Patrick Opiangah, the president of Mounana, a club from south-eastern Gabon, has been accused by players of abusing them. After a stay of 15 months in the central prison of Libreville in the mid-2000s for financial crimes, Opiangah became a significant figure in politics and Gabonese football.

“He was general manager of the selection when I knew him,” says a former international player. “He more or less decided who came or not to the national team. He called me personally when I was in Europe, and he was clear. I was good, yes, but I had to go into his bed.”

Another former player from Mounana also told a similar story. “He made me go into his office,” he says. “He said to me: ‘This is how it is. You want to play? Want a contract? I decide.’ He told me he wanted to sleep with me – when I refused, he kicked me out of Mounana. I was in another club, and I assure you that I did not play because he called people. This man is so powerful … Everyone is afraid of him in Gabonese football.”

Hervé Patrick Opiangah
Gabonese politician Hervé Patrick Opiangah has described the claims against him as a ‘hateful campaign of slanderous denunciation’. Photograph: No credit

Opiangah refused to answer questions when contacted by the Guardian. But after being included on a list of alleged offenders circulated on social media in December, he described the claims as a “hateful campaign of slanderous denunciation, which is not based on any specific facts” that had tried to “unfairly defame personalities known for their dedication to the cause [of] football, for no other reason than to smear their person and tarnish their image”.

Parfait Ndong, a former Gabon international who spent most of his career in Portugal, returned to the country to open his Jardin de football du Gabon academy in 2018. He says he raised the alarm then. “I alerted Fegafoot president Mounguengui to the sexual abuse, but what was done? Nothing. All Gabonese football is aware of these problems of paedophilia, but nothing has been done for our children.”

An exasperated Ndong spoke publicly in Gabon, “which earned me threats”.

Mounguengui, who will attempt to secure a third term as president at elections this month, did not respond to questions from the Guardian.

Another coach, Lazare Nguema, has been accused by young players of sexually abusing and harassing them since starting to work for the League de l’Estuaire in 2019. One alleged victim said: “He made advances to me, told me that I wouldn’t go anywhere if I didn’t work with him. I went to his house once and he asked me to undress to see if I was in good physical condition. Then he wanted to mount me. I pushed him away, and I was able to get away from him. I jumped out of the window, I didn’t even have time to get dressed. Since that day, he continues to harass me, telling me that he is my only hope if I want to play football. I stopped everything.”

  • Download the Guardian app from the iOS App Store on iPhone or the Google Play store on Android by searching for 'The Guardian'.
  • If you already have the Guardian app, make sure you’re on the most recent version.
  • In the Guardian app, tap the Menu button at the bottom right, then go to Settings (the gear icon), then Notifications.
  • Turn on sport notifications.

Nguema denied the accusations and told the Guardian that he had been the subject of “arbitrary false accusations and several people are mobilised in order to harm me, going so far as to quote my name in acts of paedophilia on social networks. I am the main delegate of the Gabonese coaches’ union which is trying to get the current Gabonese football federation to leave before the election scheduled for April.”

Fegafoot said in a statement: “For several months Gabonese justice has been active. Thus the judicial police and the counter-interference are carrying out investigations, the public prosecutor has made a public statement on this subject, inviting the [alleged] victims to approach justice and an investigating judge is in charge of this file.

“The hearings of several actors from the world of sport and football in particular are in progress. To date several arrests have been made. In addition, the federation’s ethics committee has opened an investigation, Fifa has been active and is following this file.”


Ed Aarons and Romain Molina

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Serge Mombo arrested over sexual abuse of young players in Gabon
Serge Mombo, a leading football official in Gabon, has been arrested after being accused of sexually abusing young players and demanding sex as a condition of them securing places in national teams, the Guardian understands

Ed Aarons and Romain Molina

25, Jan, 2022 @10:38 PM

Article image
Gabonese football coach arrested on suspicion of sexual abuse
Coach arrested days after suspension by football federation

Ed Aarons and Romain Molina

21, Dec, 2021 @6:30 PM

Article image
Gabon’s former Under-17 football coach facing sexual abuse charges
Gabon’s former Under-17 coach Patrick Assoumou Eyi is facing charges of raping minors and sexual assault that could lead to a prison sentence of up to 30 years, as the country’s government continues to investigate revelations made by the Guardian

Ed Aarons and Romain Molina

02, Jan, 2022 @1:48 PM

Article image
Patrick Assoumou Eyi, leading football coach in Gabon, accused of raping boys
Allegations submitted to Fifa by the players union Fifpro after claims made against the former coach of the national under-17 team

Exclusive by Romain Molina and Ed Aarons

16, Dec, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Fifa opens investigation into allegations of sexual abuse in Gabonese football
Fifa has confirmed that its independent ethics committee has opened an investigation into allegations of widespread sexual abuse in Gabonese football

Ed Aarons and Romain Molina

10, Jan, 2022 @6:33 PM

Article image
Gabon’s FA suspends leading football coach accused of raping boys
Patrick Assoumou Eyi, the long-serving coach in Gabon facing claims he raped, groomed and exploited young players, has been provisionally suspended by the country’s FA pending an investigation

Ed Aarons and Romain Molina

17, Dec, 2021 @5:31 PM

Article image
How Bob Higgins stole lives with Southampton sexual abuse
Testimonies of former schoolboy footballers sexually abused by the coach show his manipulative and destructive behaviour

Nick Ames

26, Nov, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Damning report reveals Southampton FC’s 70s and 80s sexual abuse failures
A string of missed opportunities allowed Bob Higgins to sexually abuse scores of schoolboy at Southampton in the 70s and 80s, a report by Barnardo’s has concluded

Steven Morris

26, Nov, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Fifa investigates after St Kitts appoint coach accused of sexual abuse
Fifa will request more details about the appointment of a coach accused of sexually abusing and harassing female players in Barbados

Ed Aarons and Romain Molina

03, Feb, 2022 @12:45 PM

Article image
‘Secrets kill’: the harrowing drama about sexual abuse in football
Barry Bennell was Britain’s best coach. But why did he keep a puma – and other exotic pets – in his house? We speak to the team behind Floodlights, an exceptional drama about the endemic abuse at the heart of the national game

Phil Harrison

12, May, 2022 @11:25 AM