PtG Article 05.02.2024

Mali is a textbook example of how to fail victims of sexual abuse in sport

In 2023, the former national head coach of Malian basketball Amadou Bamba was suspended for life by the international basketball federation FIBA for sexually abusing young national players. But according to Human Rights Watch, Bamba is still coaching girls and boys in Mali.

Three years ago, Human Rights Watch and the New York Times revealed that several players on Mali's national youth women's basketball team had been sexually abused for years by their national coach Amadou Bamba.

But even though the national coach was banned for life by the International Basketball Federation FIBA in 2023 after two years of investigations, he is still coaching.

"There is evidence that Bamba is still coaching both girls and boys basketball in Mali," said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, on Sunday at the Play the Game conference in Trondheim.

"Imagine how that feels for girls who risked everything to report abuse. The teen whistleblowers in Mali did everything right according to the FIBA and IOC systems. And in doing so, they exposed institutional failings all the way to the top in basketball."

Investigation showed abuse of female athletes for decades

At the conference, Minky Worden reviewed the entire case in Mali together with Andrea Florence, director of Sport & Rights Alliance, and Ahmar Maiga, president and founder of Young Players Protection in Africa.

According to the three speakers, the Mali case is a textbook example of how national and international sports federations are failing young victims of sexual abuse in sports.

In September 2021, an independent investigation of the case ordered by FIBA confirmed that at least seven coaches and officials in Mali's national basketball federation FMBB have taken part in or known of sexual abuse of female players on the country's national U19 and U16 teams for decades.

But the FIBA investigation which was conducted by McLaren Global Sport Solutions was not able to confirm New York Times' reporting that the president of FIBA, Hamane Niang, knew or should have known about the sexual abuse in Mali such as some witnesses claimed. Between 1999 and 2011, Niang served as president of Mail's national basketball federation FMBB and as the country's sports minister.

The federation attempted to obstruct the investigation

However, the report concluded that the national basketball federation in Mali took part in several attempts to cover up the abuse and obstruct the investigation.

"The federation did everything in its power to hush up the abuses and minimise the damages," Ahmar Maiga said.

"Some players have been victims of physical assaults and death threats. And I am also receiving death threats on Facebook because I am helping and protecting the survivors and whistleblowers."

According to Minky Worden, Human Rights Watch sees the same attempts to cover up abuse in many other cases.

"This national and constitutional cover-up is similar to what we saw with the so-called US 'Olympic doctor' in gymnastics and other prolific abuses of children in sport," she said.

"It turned the basketball court into a place of danger and allowed Bamba to persist with his sexual assault of other players for years".

In 2021, the national head coach was arrested and charged for 'pedophilia, attempted rape, and molestation'. He spent a few months in jail before he was released.

His lawyer was the former president of FMBB Jean-Claude Sidibe who is also the current president of the federation. The FIBA report found that Sidibe had threatened some of the witnesses in the case.

"The world needs to understand the high human costs of a system that is failing to protect young athletes," Minky Worden said.

"We need to confront the vast power differentials, male-dominated leadership and almost insurmountable differentials teenage survivors and whistleblowers have in reporting sexual abuse. We need to put in place systems to address these gaps."

Andrea Florence agreed and added:

"FIBA should apologise and compensate victims of abuse that have been recognised and proven by the independent investigation conducted by the McLaren team".


Watch the session 'Abuse of minors in Mali: A model of system flaws in sport'

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