FIBA president Hamane Niang steps aside amid sexual abuse investigation month before Olympics

·4 min read
Hamane Niang.
Hamane Niang helped build Mali into a growing national women's basketball power, but reportedly knew of abuse and did nothing. (Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images)

FIBA president Hamane Niang stepped aside from his position at least temporarily on Sunday amid allegations he knew about sexual abuse while overseeing Mali's women's basketball growth, the New York Times reported.

Niang helped build Mali in West Africa into a women's basketball power while working as the president of the country's basketball federation and then sports minister. The allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against mostly teenagers are from 1999 to 2011. 

FIBA bylaws include a "zero tolerance" sexual harassment policy and requires all incidents to be reported. Niang, 69, "strongly denies" the he knew of any harassment or abuse, FIBA wrote in an email to the Times. 

“I was never implicated and I never had knowledge in any way of the accusations described in your correspondence," he wrote in an email on Sunday, via the Times. 

He is supposed to be overseeing the basketball competitions at the Tokyo Olympics next month. His standing with the NBA and WNBA has taken a hit now, via the Times. 

“We have shared our concerns with FIBA regarding these very disturbing allegations,” Mike Bass, a spokesman for both leagues, said in a statement on Thursday.

FIBA suspended two basketball coaches and a high-ranking federation official from Mali who are accused of abusing players. The organization said it will make sure the allegations in the Times investigation are "taken seriously and properly investigated."

FIBA president reportedly failed to take action 

Two players said when they were teenagers their coach, Cheick Oumar Sissoko, groped them as he danced with them while at a victory celebration at a nightclub in 2006. Players said Niang was present that night, but watched and laughed along. 

Two activists told the Times they knew of "at least a dozen coaches and federation officials" who have been accused of abusing women. At least 100 have said they were abused, they said. 

Aissata Tina Djibo, 31, joined the youth national team in 2005 at the age of 15 and said Sissoko, known as "Yankee," made lewd sexual remarks repeatedly at practices. Niang was present at those practices but ignored the remarks. Via the Times: 

"Sissoko also sometimes had sex with players who relented 'because they were afraid to lose their place in the squad,'" Djibo said.

Asked if Niang was aware of Sissoko’s behavior, Djibo said, “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.”

Activists told the Times it is inconceivable that Niang would not know it was happening and that every president for two decades was aware, but did nothing. 

Players, parents and activists told the Times allegations were also known regarding Amadou Bamba, 51, Mali's youth national coach. Bamba reportedly sexually assaulted team members and demanded sex in exchange for roster spots and playing time. They told the Times incidents happened in hotel rooms while at tournaments and sometimes under the guise of career advice. He reportedly would threaten them and say he could have the players and their parents put in jail. 

Sissoko and Bamba were suspended by FIBA. 

Mali growing into women's basketball power

The senior national team won the FIBA Africa Championship in 2007, qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was their first Olympics. 

The youth squad has fared well and after the 2008 Olympic appearance by the national team, the youth group has grown into a basketball power. 

Mali became the first African team to reach the quarterfinals at the 2019 U-19 World Cup and the country has a total of seven U-18 African women's championships. It ranks No. 16 in the world.

Abuse against women is widespread in Mali. The country ranks 158th out of 162 in gender inequality, per the United Nations Development Program. During political upheaval in 2020, violence against women spiked. Women are often forced to marry young. Djibo told the Times young girls and women view basketball as a “way out of misery.” 

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