The International Basketball Federation’s (FIBA) recent sanctions on high-ranking officials in Mali’s women’s basketball community underscores the dire need for comprehensive measures to combat systemic sex abuse, a grave violation of human rights that pervades the world of sports. These sanctions follow a devastating report issued by Human Rights Watch in June 2021 that uncovered rampant sexual abuse and cover-ups within the Federation Malienne de Basketball (FMBB). However, the troubling appointment of another official suspected of abuse as the head of the FMBB raises the alarm for constant vigilance and monitoring from FIBA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
On June 21, 2023, FIBA administered a lifetime ban on Amadou Bamba, the former coach of the Mali women’s national basketball team, and imposed sanctions on four other key officials. Among these figures was the ex-national federation president, Harouna Maiga. Despite the significance of these actions, they only serve to highlight the extent of the systemic sex abuse that plagues the FMBB.
“FIBA’s own report confirmed the systemic abuse of teenage female basketball players in Mali dating back years,” stated Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. The unpalatable reality is that while it is indeed a positive development that some top officials have been sanctioned, there has yet to be any tangible remedy or compensation provided for the teenage girl athletes who courageously voiced their experiences of abuse and faced subsequent retaliation. Alarmingly, an official implicated in the scandal is now heading basketball operations in Mali.
Following the alarming reports of sexual abuse within Mali’s basketball community, documented by Human Rights Watch and the New York Times, FIBA took the commendable step of appointing Richard McLaren, a renowned Canadian lawyer, and FIBA integrity officer, to lead an independent investigation into the allegations. McLaren’s thorough 149-page report, published in September 2021, substantiated the claims of sexual exploitation, extortion, and retaliation within the FMBB. He described the situation as an “institutionalized acceptance of sexual abuse.”
FIBA’s sanctions are a vital first step in addressing the systemic abuse within Mali’s women’s basketball. However, the recent appointment of a potentially implicated official as the head of the FMBB calls for increased oversight and immediate action from FIBA and the IOC. This move suggests a potential lapse in the integrity of the ongoing reforms and sends a worrying message about the seriousness of eradicating the culture of sex abuse within the federation.
Sex abuse, especially involving minors, is a heinous crime that should never be tolerated in any society, let alone in the sporting community, which plays a significant role in youth development. FIBA, IOC, and other international sporting bodies must take their role as protectors of young athletes seriously and put in place rigorous and proactive measures to ensure that those who commit these crimes face full and just consequences.
The task ahead is monumental. The basketball community, along with the global sports community, must aim for nothing less than a complete eradication of sex abuse. This will entail continuous oversight, education, support for victims, and penalties for offenders. Only then can we hope to truly protect young athletes and uphold the fundamental values of integrity, respect, and fairness in sports.