Starting on March 13, the new sound of bouncing basketballs will resonate in the stands of Dakar Arena and the other courts to host the twelve clubs of the Basketball League (BAL), aimed at bringing high-level basketball to the heart of Africa. But that’s not all. The game will also be used to reach ambitious development goals for education, health, citizenship, gender equality, sustainable development and entrepreneurship. This is the purpose behind the partnership that has already been established between Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and the NBA, the famous North American basketball league that created the BAL.
Rémy Rioux, Executive Officer of AFD explains: “the Basketball Africa League brings together all the sport has to offer in terms of social ties, access to citizenship, gender equality, and environmental and economic issues. We must invest in Africa, in its youth and in sport,” says Rémy Rioux, adding that BAL is “a pan-African project led by Africans. This ambitious initiative will generate creativity and innovation, while changing the way the rest of the world views Africa.”
A school for training citizens, a tool for economic development
After acknowledging the presence of representatives from Mali, Rwanda, Angola and other African countries in a packed auditorium, Amadou Gallo Fall did not hide his enthusiasm. For the President of the Basketball Africa League and Vice-President of the NBA, one thing is quite clear: “We share the same passion as AFD for Africa, and African youth in particular. Basketball has the strong potential to have an impact on African youth. And it is an ideal tool for developing true citizens, ready to carry our vision for the strong and independent Africa we all dream of.” With assistance from the International Basketball Federation, a stakeholder in the project, the BAL wants to be a league that promotes “all the components of development, including economic development,” an aspect that is inseparable from the other project goals, according to Fall.
The twelve teams will compete in six cities, from Friday to Sunday. The finals will be played on the brand new court in Kigali, Rwanda. Players and fans will therefore have many opportunities to travel, exchange, boost the tourism sector, and encourage the construction of new infrastructure. This is a collective adventure, like the journeys of the basketball players, men and women who are African or of African origin, for whom the sport has been an extraordinary steppingstone in their lives.
“Sports erase our differences”
Diana Gandega was born in France and was able to discover her father’s country, Mali, when she went to play for the national team. “I didn’t know the country and I didn’t speak the language. At first in the team, they called me the ‘white girl’, and ‘toubab’. And then they became my family. It’s the power of sports to erase differences.”
Ahmed Taofik sometimes walked three hours in the middle of the night to watch NBA games on Canal+, back in Benin. His mother gave him his first “Jordan” basketball shoes before her death two years later. He made her this promise posthumously: basketball will be my destiny. “I started practicing as hard as I could.” The former member of the national team of Benin explains, “Thanks to basketball, I had the opportunity to complete my studies in the United States.” Now that his career is over, he wants to give back what he received from the sport. He therefore created the organization Enfants du Bénin Debout. Among other achievements, it organized the first tournament combining male and female players and with disabilities.
Dick Rutatika Sano, on the other hand, has not yet started his professional career. At 15, the young Rwandan is a member of the prestigious NBA Academy Africa, which combines sport and studies. “I left my family to pursue basketball when I was 14 and integrated a new educational system. It was hard,” he explains to a panel of experts, clearly as comfortable with a microphone as he is with a basketball. “But I’ve learned a lot, especially about how to be more independent.” And if basketball does not end up being his profession, Dick already knows where he wants to go: “I will become architect or engineer in my home country of Rwanda.”
Sport as a vector for development, a “small cultural revolution”
When Laëtitia Habchi, Deputy Head of the Social Cohesion Unit and Sports Advisor at AFD, announced the upcoming creation of a Sport and Development platform to facilitate connections between the various sector stakeholders, political commentator Pascal Boniface applauded the “small revolution under way”. “Just think,” said the founder of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), “a French public operator partnering with a private American operator, this has never been done before. What is more, this is in France, a country where sports are rarely promoted by the elite. Using sports as a driver for development means realizing that sports are for all of us.”
The last topic discussed during the morning, and by no means least, was the economy. “Sports contribute trillions of dollars in the economies of world countries, but not in Africa. This needs to change,” says Amadou Gallo Fall. All the elements are in place to make BAL a powerful economic driver for participating countries.” Yet women have the WNBA, the alter ego of the male NBA, but why is there still nothing with the Basketball Africa League? “It’s coming!”, says the president of the league, a strong proponent of gender equality. “We just need a little more time, but the commitment is there.”