Investigation Confirms Reports of Abuse in Mali Basketball

Basketball’s world governing physique painted a damning portrait of sexual abuse of feminine basketball gamers in the West African nation of Mali in an investigation revealed Tuesday, however mentioned it couldn’t independently verify reporting in The New York Times that the game’s high world official knew about and largely ignored stories of sexual misconduct in his native nation.

Hamane Niang stepped apart briefly in June because the president of FIBA, basketball’s world governing physique, as The Times ready to publish a narrative on allegations of systemic sexual harassment and abuse of dozens of feminine gamers in Mali, the bulk of them youngsters, since not less than the early 2000s.

Niang, 69, has not been accused of committing sexual abuse. But his critics advised The Times that he principally disregarded the assault of ladies for a dozen years between 1999 and 2011, when he served first as president of Mali’s basketball federation after which because the nation’s sports activities minister.

And, these critics advised The Times, with additional inaction as president of FIBA, Niang continued to depart feminine gamers susceptible to exploitation in his residence nation, a predominantly Muslim former French colony the place ladies expertise excessive inequality in every day life.

At the time, Niang didn’t reply to a sequence of questions despatched to FIBA, searching for his response. But he advised The Times in an electronic mail that he “never had knowledge” of accusations of sexual abuse described in the article.

A subsequent investigation carried out by FIBA’s integrity officer, the Canadian lawyer Richard H. McLaren, and revealed Tuesday in a 149-page report, mentioned it discovered that institutional abuse persists in Mali. But the investigation discovered “no direct evidence from anyone about President Niang’s knowledge of sexual harassment.”

Niang issued a press release on Tuesday saying, “This investigation is of paramount importance and I would like to express my personal and unconditional support to the victims. These offences 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 gamers who had been youngsters on the time, talking anonymously, advised The Times that Niang was current at a nightclub in Mali’s capital for a victory celebration in 2006 or 2007 when his shut good friend, a coach named Cheick Oumar Sissoko, often known as Yankee, groped their breasts and buttocks as they danced with them. The gamers advised The Times that as an alternative of intervening, Niang watched and laughed alongside.

Another former participant, Aissata Tina Djibo, now 31, mentioned Sissoko repeatedly made lewd sexual remarks that Niang ignored at practices. Sissoko additionally typically had intercourse with gamers who relented as a result of they had been afraid to lose their place in the youth nationwide staff, she mentioned.

Asked if Niang was conscious of Sissoko’s conduct, Djibo advised The Times, “Of course, he knew. Yankee was his best friend, they were hanging out together. That’s why Yankee was so powerful. He had the backing of the president.”

Jose Ruiz, a Frenchman who coached the Mali ladies’s basketball staff on the 2008 Beijing Olympics, mentioned he changed Sissoko for the 2013 African championships after two gamers complained to the Mali sports activities ministry about Sissoko’s conduct. Ruiz didn’t criticize Niang however mentioned that he and Sissoko had been shut and that the abuse of feminine gamers was “a big problem.”

Niang denied to FIBA investigators that he had ever gone to a nightclub with gamers or witnessed untoward conduct by Sissoko. Investigators mentioned no victims had come ahead to substantiate the allegations of groping.

The FIBA investigation mentioned that whereas it was unable to independently confirm accusations made towards Sissoko, “the hearsay evidence provided by multiple witnesses is concerning.” He was suspended by FIBA in June.

The FIBA investigation made withering criticism of the Mali basketball federation. The report mentioned that “institutionalised acceptance of the abuse of players exists” throughout the federation and “neither action nor effort has been attempted to recognize or correct this.”

The report confirmed The Times’s account that Amadou Bamba, 51, sexually harassed and abused a number of gamers because the coach of the ladies’s youth nationwide staff and retaliated towards some gamers who gave testimony by not deciding on them to compete in sure competitions. He has since been arrested.

The FIBA report mentioned that Harouna Maiga, the president of the Mali basketball federation, lied to investigators about his information of sexual abuse and tried to impede the investigation. He was suspended by FIBA in July.

The investigation additionally accused the Mali basketball federation “historically and currently” of being “wholly insufficient” in offering the required safeguards for shielding younger gamers.

The report additionally mentioned investigators had been hampered by witness and sufferer intimidation. Twenty-two potential witnesses refused to take part in the investigation, the report mentioned. Travel restrictions associated to the coronavirus pandemic additionally prevented investigators from touring to Mali, leaving them to conduct most interviews nearly.

Niang’s critics mentioned Tuesday it was inconceivable that he didn’t know concerning the widespread sexual abuse in Mali throughout his time as the pinnacle of the nation’s basketball federation and as its sports activities minister. Cheick Camara, a reform activist who mentioned he assisted the FIBA investigation, criticized what he described as its lack of thoroughness.

“They know perfectly that abuses happened during Niang’s time,” Camara mentioned. “As they said in their report, it’s an institutionalized system. That system is not new; it’s been more than 20 years. No one did anything to change that, Niang included.”

Minky Worden, the director of world initiatives for Human Rights Watch, which additionally investigated sexual abuse of feminine basketball gamers in Mali, repeated Tuesday that Niang knew or ought to have identified concerning the abuse.

“Based on this report, he shouldn’t be in office one more day,” Worden mentioned. “This is not a man who should lead global basketball. His global role is built on the Mali basketball federation, which is revealed in an almost 150-page report to have been rife with sexual abuse and also not to have had in place any of the required statutory protections for children.”