Opinion

Diana Gandega
Champion for Peace and member of Malian basketball team

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22/07/2020 par Diana Gandega

Giving youth what sport gave me

I started basketball at the age of 14 with the UNSS (School Sports Union) at school, in Paris’ 18th arrondissement, and then I continued in a club. I have an atypical background because I didn’t go through a sports federation or a training centre, so I had to fight to succeed. There’s a bit of talent, but above all there’s hard work. If I can make children understand that work isn’t just a word and that you can succeed without being spotted. You just have to try hard; anything is possible.

I joined Peace and Sport as a Champion for Peace in 2009 because I wanted to give back what I received from sport, all the values that can be learnt. I do this by interacting with young people and talking to them about high level performance, explaining that the values of sport are transferable to everyday life. If this comes from a high-level athlete, the impact is always greater. They recognize themselves in my unusual background.

I’m also in charge of event management in 95 (Val d’Oise), for the basketball committee, and I’ve become the General Manager. Through my network, we collected 2 tons of equipment, sneakers and sportswear to send to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Peace and Sport has been organizing Sports Workshops in France for several years. I have participated in them for two days over the two-week program, talking to young people who have dropped out of school and are supported by a community aid project. At the beginning, when we suggested a sport, the youngsters would say “it’s not possible” and then at the end, we see them horse riding, playing basketball, climbing, etc. We give them something extra; that’s the objective.

I was also in Senegal for Basket without borders, an NBA program. I would love to do that in Mali, but I don’t know how good the relationship is between the Malian federation and the NBA. I am Malian and Senegalese, I can see there is good contact between Senegal and the NBA with many players in the United States. Hamchétou Maïga is the first Malian to have played in the WNBA, winning a title in 2005, but we don’t yet have famous personalities in the United States to be able to make the link, like Pascal Siakam or Serge Ibaka, despite the Malian women’s team being ranked in the top 3 in Africa.

When Peace and Sport started, there were about 15 of us, now we are more than a hundred. The organization is evolving, champions help each other by joining the actions of others. Communication is also progressing, with more and more programs being developed… I can see the impact on my actions during sports workshops in the field.

As a woman and a player, I try to attract a lot of women basketball players to Peace and Sport. I know that it inspires young girls, I take high-level players to the clubs in the Val d’Oise, I talk about the organization and especially about the chance to play sport in France and not to stop. From the age of 15, a third of female members leave every year due to studies, friends etc. So, we make young people aware of sport and its values that we can use throughout our lives.

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