Opinion

Isabelle Yacoubou
Captain of the BasketBall French national team and Champion for Peace

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12/03/2018 par Isabelle Yacoubou

Sport Gave Me a Break, Now I Want to Help Others

I was born in Benin, Africa. It’s a poor country, with sparse conditions for playing sport and even more limited training resources. That’s how it was when I was young. And things have hardly changed since then. Despite all this sport was a dream for me – the hope of a better life; I dreamed of making it my occupation. I had a lot of luck, because in the end my dream came true. I became a professional basketball player in France and abroad, competing in the Olympic Games and major international competitions with the national team,

I am aware of how lucky I’ve been, deeply conscious of all that sport has given me. I realize that opportunities in sport are rare for young Beninese people. But my experience shows that impossible doesn’t exist. I’ve always wanted to give back to sport what it gave me. I’ve always wanted to bring a source of inspiration to young people in my country. They need role models to help them believe in their vision. But I just didn’t have the time. It was difficult to put my goals into action between my career playing for clubs and the national French team,

However, in the last 4 years I’ve finally been able to act. Since my international career ended, it’s been possible to devote my time to others. In 2015 I set up a basketball camp in Benin. The initiative began rather modestly, but it’s slowly growing year after year. The first edition involved thirty young people. This year, we’ve already got around fifty, and inscriptions are still coming in. I want to attract an equal number of boys and girls so I’ve made it a priority to achieve parity.

For one week, players enjoy training conditions which may seem normal in Europe, but which are exceptional in Benin where basketball practice remains disorganized: a qualified coach from abroad, two training sessions per day… plus I use periods when we’re not playing to tell these young people about my own experience and to show them possible ways forward. I also convey messages about the role of sport in society. We even clean up waste, collecting and recycling the many plastic bags which pollute Benin.

Even today at 31 years old I continue to dream. My vision is to open a basketball academy in Benin. The Ministry of Sport is interested in the idea and says it’s ready to help me, but we have to raise funds. It will undoubtedly be a difficult task, but I’m determined to pursue it. I cherish the dream of devoting my post-playing career to it. I am struck by the small number of high-level sportspeople who return to their origins and take action to reinvest their efforts into their sport, their country or their village. We’ve been lucky. It’s now up to us to try and give the same opportunities to youngsters. My engagement alongside Peace and Sport is part of this initiative. To inform young people. To make a contribution. To serve as a role model. Last September, I didn’t think twice before accepting the invitation to become a Champion for Peace. I jumped at the opportunity!

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