Investigation confirms reports of abuse in Malian basketball

The world basketball governing body painted a damning portrait of sexual abuse of female basketball players in the West African nation of Mali in an investigation released on Tuesday, but said it could not confirm in any way. independent information from the New York Times that the world’s top sports official was aware of and largely ignored reports of sexual misconduct in his home country.

Hamane Niang temporarily stepped down from the presidency of FIBA, the world’s basketball governing body, in June as The Times prepared to publish an article on allegations of systemic sexual harassment and abuse by dozens. players in Mali, mostly teenagers, since the early 2000s.

Niang, 69, has not been charged with committing sexual abuse. But his critics told The Times he mostly ignored assaults on women for a dozen years between 1999 and 2011, when he first served as president of the Malian basketball federation and then Minister of Sports of the country.

And, those critics told The Times, with even more inaction as FIBA ​​president, Niang continued to leave female players vulnerable to exploitation in her home country, a former predominantly Muslim French colony where women experience extreme inequalities in everyday life.

At the time, Niang had not responded to a series of questions sent to FIBA, asking for its response. But he told The Times in an email that he “had never been aware” of the sexual abuse charges described in the article.

An investigation by FIBA ​​integrity official, Canadian lawyer Richard H. McLaren, and published in a 149-page report Tuesday, found institutional abuses persist in Mali. But the investigation found “no direct evidence from anyone about President Niang’s knowledge of sexual harassment.”

Niang released a statement on Tuesday saying, “This investigation is of paramount importance and I would like to express my personal and unconditional support for the victims. These infringements must be duly prosecuted by FIBA ​​through independent procedures. Since the integrity officer has confirmed my innocence, I will now resume my official duties with FIBA.

Two players who were teenagers at the time, speaking anonymously, told The Times that Niang was present at a nightclub in the Malian capital for a victory celebration in 2006 or 2007 when his close friend, a trainer named Cheick Oumar Sissoko, known as Yankee, groped their breasts and buttocks as they danced with them. The players told The Times that instead of intervening, Niang watched and laughed.

Another former player, Aissata Tina Djibo, now 31, said Sissoko repeatedly made obscene sexual remarks that Niang ignored during training. Sissoko also occasionally had sex with players who gave in because they were afraid of losing their place in the national youth team, she said.

When asked if Niang was aware of Sissoko’s behavior, Djibo told The Times, “Of course he did. Yankee was his best friend, they hung out together. That’s why Yankee was so powerful. He had the support of the president.

José Ruiz, a Frenchman who coached the Mali women’s basketball team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said he replaced Sissoko for the 2013 African Championships after two players complained to the Malian Ministry of Sports of Sissoko’s behavior. Ruiz did not criticize Niang but said he and Sissoko were close and the abuse of the players was “a big problem”.

Niang denied to FIBA ​​investigators that he had ever been to a nightclub with players or witnessed Sissoko’s inappropriate behavior. Investigators said no victims had come forward to substantiate the allegations of trial and error.

The FIBA ​​investigation said that although it was unable to independently verify the charges against Sissoko, “the hearsay evidence provided by several witnesses is concerning.” He was suspended by FIBA ​​in June.

The FIBA ​​investigation drew fierce criticism of the Malian basketball federation. The report states that “institutionalized acceptance of player abuse exists” within the federation and “no action or effort has been attempted to recognize or correct this”.

The report confirmed the Times account that Amadou Bamba, 51, harassed and sexually assaulted several players as a coach of the national women’s youth team and retaliated against some players who testified by not selecting them. to participate in certain competitions. He has since been arrested.

According to the FIBA ​​report, Harouna Maiga, the president of the Malian basketball federation, lied to investigators about his knowledge of sexual abuse and tried to obstruct the investigation. He was suspended by FIBA ​​in July.

The investigation also accused the Malian basketball federation “historically and currently” of being “totally insufficient” to provide the guarantees required to protect young players.

The report also states that investigators were hampered by intimidation of witnesses and victims. Twenty-two potential witnesses declined to participate in the investigation, according to the report. Travel restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic also prevented investigators from traveling to Mali, leaving them to conduct most of the interviews virtually.

Niang’s critics said on Tuesday it was inconceivable he was unaware of the widespread sexual abuse in Mali during his tenure as head of the country’s basketball federation and as sports minister. Cheick Camara, a reformist activist who said he helped the FIBA ​​investigation, criticized what he called lack of rigor.

“They know full well that abuse took place during Niang’s time,” Camara said. “As they said in their report, it’s an institutionalized system. This system is not new; it’s been over 20 years. No one did anything to change that, Niang included.

Minky Worden, director of global initiatives for Human Rights Watch, who also investigated sexual abuse of female basketball players in Mali, reiterated on Tuesday that Niang knew or should have known of the abuse.

“Based on this report, he shouldn’t be in post another day,” Worden said. “He is not a man who should lead world basketball. His world role rests with the Malian basketball federation, which is revealed in a nearly 150-page report to have been riddled with sexual abuse and not also having none of the legal protections required for children.

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