Human Rights Watch said on Friday that the Malian authorities’ arrest and indictment of a coach accused of sexual harassment and assault of teenage female basketball players is an important step for protecting children and women athletes from abuse.
Following reporting in June 2021 on sexual abuse in Mali’s Under-18 women’s national basketball team, judicial authorities on July 26 arrested, charged, and jailed the coach, Amadou Bamba. He is awaiting trial for “pedophilia, attempted rape, and molestation.”
“With the Tokyo Olympics underway, Mali’s government has taken a vital step to remove a basketball coach who is credibly accused of sexually assaulting teenage female basketball players,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “Basketball federation leaders knew or should have known about the abuses and failed in their duty of care to the young players.”
Bamba, 51, the Under-18 girls’ national basketball team’s head coach since 2016, allegedly sexually assaulted or harassed at least three players and thwarted their careers when they refused to have sex with him, survivors, parents, and witnesses told Human Rights Watch.
A Human Rights Watch June report and letter to the Fédération Internationale de Basketball (FIBA), world basketball’s ruling body, documented a pattern of sexual abuse that basketball officials covered up, allowing it to continue.
On July 27, the Malian government published a statement affirming its commitment to children’s rights under its international treaty obligations, noting Bamba’s arrest and the suspension by FIBA of its Malian president, Hamane Niang, and the Mali Basketball Federation president, Harouna Maiga.
The Mali girls’ Under-19 team is scheduled to compete in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Hungary starting on August 7.
Human rights groups have been pressing FIBA to adopt reforms, including ensuring that women and athlete representatives are included on in its now-all-male Management Team.
A letter published on July 29 by the Sport & Rights Alliance together with the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) said that FIBA should address the sexual abuses in Mali with urgent governance reforms. FIBA should put in place protections for children from the top down in basketball, the alliance said, including “the establishment of systemic reforms to prevent and respond to cases of abuse in the future, a FIBA governance structure that includes women at high levels and ensures abuse reporting mechanisms exist on a national and global level,” and ensuring that all players “have a seat at the table and a meaningful voice in the decisions concerning them.”
Human Rights Watch has researched child sexual abuse on national women’s sports teams in Afghanistan, Japan, Haiti, and Mali and has partnered with athletes, parents, and coaches in Japan and worldwide ahead of the Tokyo Games on a campaign to end sexual and other abuses in sport called “#AthletesAgainstAbuse.”
“Mali’s women’s Under-19 national basketball team is one of the best in the world,” Worden said. “Not just Malians, but people around the world should be deeply proud of these players who risked their careers, mental health, and safety to speak up about abuse to protect the next generation of athletes. They are not only top athletes but are also heroes in the global fight against sexual abuse of children.”