In Mali, women are still distant from sport
“It was a bit of a coincidence that I discovered sport on television. A documentary on Pascal Gentil, the French multiple Taekwondo World Champion, was showing on a channel. I watched the program and was fascinated. This is why I decided to get into this sport. I was 11 and my life took a turn for the better on that day. Since then, sport and taekwondo have accompanied my every step. They have guided my entire existence.
At first, it was through competitions that I gradually climbed to national and international levels, until becoming champion of Mali and medallist at the African Games, before failing twice at the gates of the Olympic Games: Beijing 2008 and in London 2012. Then, later, I got involved in the associative world. I started in my own milieu, taekwondo, by creating a youth group in 2009. Three years later, I extended it to all martial arts. We were able to provide support to several athletes, in terms of equipment and training, but we also helped them in their conversion. Given the success of our initiative, other sports asked us to join the movement, so I found myself chairing the Association for the Promotion of Youth and Sports (APJS). Today it counts 1,027 volunteers throughout Mali, while 35 of us are at the national office.
Why did I decide to get involved in the associative movement after my athletic career? The answer is simple: I wanted to help. My sporting journey, with all those years of training since my first fights, has not always been easy. Conditions have often been difficult; resources and support very limited. I have had to fight.
In Mali, sport remains a “poor relation”. Resources are lacking, especially in financial terms. Private companies, for example, are reluctant to invest. They feel like they are throwing money out of the window. There are few places to practice. For a young person who would like to pursue a career in the sports movement, the prospects are poor. Above all, female practice remains very limited. It is contrary to the country’s mentality. I realized this very young, when I first started in taekwondo, as I sometimes had to hide from my family to train. My parents believed that this discipline was reserved for boys. Today, almost twenty years later, little has changed. The vast majority of Malian women do not dare to practice physical activity. They are afraid of the eyes of others.
With APJS, we are increasing the number of programs and initiatives to accelerate development. We support the projects of Malian athletes, in particular for their conversion. We help out-of-school children to bring them, through sport, an activity, and an education. We organize seminars for business leaders to convince them of the importance of investing in sports. We are at the origin of an International Forum on Sport, in which Peace and Sport has participated since 2019. But we never lose sight of the specific context of Mali, a country where agriculture still needs a vast amount of manual labour and thousands of villages lack drinking water. We are the first association to bring sport for women to neighbourhoods, through a program called “Sport between neighbours”. We also organized a collective march, the “Parcours des Yelenis”, in collaboration with the Olympic Committee of Mali.
The road has never been easy; it is often tortuous and the obstacles numerous. But we see far ahead. We want to develop the concept of peace through sport in Mali, especially in the north of the country, a difficult and dangerous area. Our partnership with Peace and Sport will help us do this. This year it has taken on an additional dimension, with the implementation of a new program in Malian schools, the Peacemakers Project. This international program aims to share the Peace and Sport methodology, through the Peace and Sport by MyCoach mobile application, with students, teachers and educators. In the longer term, we plan to build a complex where young Malians will be able to reconcile sport and studies. Such facilities do not exist in the country or in the region. Yet young people need it. They are counting on us. ”