FIBA, McLaren come under fire from human rights group for “critical gaps” in investigation into Mali Basketball Federation

The Sport and Rights Alliance said “The failures in the McLaren investigation’s protection measures are symptomatic of foundational flaws in FIBA’s governance, structure and responsibilities to basketball players.”

Richard McLaren, who was appointed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to head an independent investigative team, presents his report in Toronto, Ontario, Canada July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Power
Richard McLaren, who was appointed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to head an independent investigative team, presents his report in Toronto, Ontario, Canada July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Power

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and its integrity officer, Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, are facing criticism by a human rights group for the handling of an investigation into the Mali Basketball Federation.

The Sport and Rights Alliance (SRA), a global coalition of trade unions and NGOs committed to human rights and anti-corruption in world sport, told McLaren in a letter that it welcomed the release of his team’s 149-page report on September 14. The SRA also said it “is encouraged by the suspension of seven basketball officials, including the Mali Basketball Federation President Harouna Maiga for impeding the investigation and covering up sexual abuse, as well as the arrest and indictment of Mali’s Under-18 women’s national basketball head coach Amadou Bamba for pedophilia, attempted rape and molestation”.

But the SRA says it “is concerned that there were critical gaps in the investigation’s approach, notably with respect to witness protection, trauma support, and confidentiality”.

In the letter to McLaren, the SRA said “the McLaren Independent Investigation Team (MIIT) report highlights that 22 survivors were intimidated by basketball federation officials or others and decided not to give evidence. Those who agreed to be interviewed by your investigation team also reported they were afraid of retaliation. One player reported that the Mali federation directly retaliated by removing her from the World Cup national team roster after she and her family reported sexual abuse.“

The SRA asked McLaren to reply by October 15 to a series of questions including details on how the witnesses were protected by the MIIT and why the MIIT did not make any recommendations for “remedy, compensation or reconciliation” despite confirming that an institutionalized acceptance of the abuse of players exists within the Mali Basketball Federation.

In a press release on Monday, the SRA also took FIBA to task.

“The failures in the McLaren investigation’s protection measures are symptomatic of foundational flaws in FIBA’s governance, structure and responsibilities to basketball players,” it said in a statement.

“FIBA and the McLaren team’s lack of protection systems exposed survivors and witnesses to great risk, and likely made possible the extensive intimidation and retaliation by federation leaders detailed by the report,” said Julie Ann Rivers-Cochran, executive director of The Army of Survivors, an advocacy organization led by former athletes and survivors working to end the systemic culture of sexual abuse across the world of sport.

FIBA headquarters in Mies, Switzerland (FIBA)
FIBA headquarters in Mies, Switzerland (FIBA)

“FIBA has yet to apologize for failing to protect Mali’s female players from sexual abuse for many years or provide remedies, such as compensation, trauma support, and playing opportunities to these brave young female athletes,” she added.

The Sport & Rights Alliance is calling for further action and answers from FIBA, including:

· Reassurances of protection against retaliation by federation leaders implicated in sexual abuse and physical safety for the witnesses, survivors and their families;

· Reinstatement of opportunities to play and progress for all witnesses and survivors;

· Psychological and trauma-informed counseling, health care, support and accompaniment to mitigate the re-traumatization survivors and whistleblowers face when providing evidence, including access to legal assistance;

· Immediate remedy and accountability, including compensation, accessing to ongoing psycho-social support, reconciliation and a public apology for survivors and victims of abuse and their families;

· Additional investigation to rectify the limitations of the McLaren investigation;

· Systemic reforms to prevent and respond to cases of abuse at FIBA’s governance structures and a full systemic review of the child safeguarding and reporting mechanisms in basketball federations around the world; and

· Reassurances of respect to the right of players to form player associations and that no action is taken against them when they form collective bodies to protect and promote their interest.

When contacted by Around the Rings, FIBA said it will not comment while disciplinary proceedings are still ongoing and directed ATR to its statement following the release of the report earlier this month, which can be found here.

ATR has also contacted McLaren and will update this story once a response is received.

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