After helping to build the West African nation of Mali into a women’s basketball power, a remarkable achievement for one of the world’s poorest countries, Hamane Niang was elected in 2019 as the president of the sport’s global governing body. As such, he is basketball’s highest-ranking international official and was scheduled to preside over the Olympic basketball competition beginning next month in Tokyo. But, on Sunday, Niang stepped aside at least temporarily from his position as president of FIBA, basketball’s governing body, as The New York Times prepared to publish an investigation into allegations of systemic sexual harassment and abuse of dozens of female players in Mali, the majority of them teenagers, at least since the early 2000s.
Niang, 69, has not been accused of committing sexual abuse. But his critics say he largely ignored the assault of women for a dozen years between 1999 and 2011, when he served first as the president of Mali’s basketball federation and then as the country’s sports minister. And, those critics say, with further inaction as president of FIBA, Niang continues to leave female players vulnerable to exploitation in his home country, a predominantly Muslim former French colony where women experience extreme inequality in daily life. Niang “strongly denies” the accusations, FIBA said in an email to The Times on Sunday night, but he will step down as head of the organization and will cooperate while it conducts its own investigation. Niang did not respond to a list of questions sent to him last week by The Times through FIBA, but said in an email on Sunday night, “I was never implicated and I never had knowledge in any way of the accusations described in your correspondence.”