March 26, 2023

World Basketball Chief Steps Aside Amid Sexual Abuse Investigation

A 16-year-old player told The Times that Bamba sexually assaulted her at the 2020 U-18 African championships held last December in Egypt. While the team trained in Mali before the tournament, the player said, Bamba threatened to expel her from the team when she refused to join him in the shower or in his bed. But during the tournament, she said, Bamba entered her hotel room one night at 2 a.m., forced her to touch him then touched her breasts and tried to reach beneath her underwear. She said she fled when a teammate knocked on the door.

The player’s father confirmed his daughter’s description of the assault to The Times and to Human Rights Watch. The father said that his daughter quit playing basketball, having grown traumatized and withdrawn.

An 18-year-old player told The Times that Bamba assaulted her when she was 16 at the 2019 U-19 Women’s World Cup held in Thailand. He called four young players to his hotel one by one, she said, ostensibly to give them advice about their careers. Instead, the teenager said, Bamba told her that if she agreed to have a relationship with him, he would supply her with basketball sneakers and equipment like shirts. He began touching her breasts, she said, and she protested and left the room.

Afterward, the teenager said, she was initially left off Mali’s team for the 2020 U-18 African championships. When she and other players complained to a female coach and federation officials about Bamba’s behavior, the player said, Bamba threatened them, saying he had the power to have them and their parents jailed.

Eventually, the teenager said, Harouna Maiga, the president of Mali’s basketball federation, intervened and the player was named to the squad for the 2020 African championships. But, the player said, “We were pressured by the federation not to talk about Bamba.”

After the U-18 African championships last December, a text message sent from the player to Maiga, and viewed by The Times, reiterated the player’s concerns about Bamba, referenced an earlier meeting with Maiga on the subject and suggested she was no longer willing to keep silent. “I’m stopping it now,” the player wrote.

Maiga did not respond to requests for comment.

Bamba now seems unlikely to coach Mali at the women’s U-19 World Cup in Hungary in August. And Niang’s presence at the Tokyo Olympics is also now uncertain.

If Niang ignored the abuse of female players, he should be “thrown out of the sport for life,” said Harvey, of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights. “Zero tolerance means zero tolerance. If you knew about it, you had an obligation to report it and to do something about it.”

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