“Promoting athletes’ interests has become my life’s mission”
Kady Kanouté Tounkara represented her native Mali in the women’s basketball competition at Beijing 2008, but now devotes her time to empowering a new generation of elite competitors and promoting clean sport.
- Kady was co-captain of the first-ever Malian women’s basketball team to qualify for the Olympic Games, in 2008.
- She is a Steering Committee member of Athlete365 Career+ and has delivered educational workshops in more than 30 countries. She is also Chair of the WADA Education Committee.
- Kady plays a key role in helping NOCs establish and grow new Athletes’ Commissions.
I left Mali when I was eight years old for a new life in France, but returning to represent my country made me very aware that many African athletes do not enjoy the same conditions as those elsewhere in the world. They do not always receive the same care and support, and this made me want to bring about constructive change by helping to ensure the voice of the athletes is heard. I wanted to make African athletes change the way they thought about themselves and their expectations.
I retired from professional basketball in 2011, and two years later I became the President of Zone 2 on the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) Athletes’ Commission (AC). Since then, promoting athletes’ interests has become my life’s mission.
Equipping you with knowledge
A major question for athletes is whether you are ready for the transition from elite sport to a new life when you retire. An injury can end a career at any time, and part of my role is to try and make you think about your future, even while you’re still healthy and competing. It’s vital you consider your financial situation and how you could earn money after sport.
Mental health has also emerged as a really big issue in recent years – I have had many discussions about the importance of looking after the mind as well as the body – while anti-doping education is another important topic that athletes want to talk about and embrace.
The key component in all three areas is to ensure that, as an athlete, you have the knowledge you need to make informed decisions for yourself.
Forming a credible and effective Athletes’ Commission
Getting the right foundations in place when NOCs establish a new Athletes’ Commission is so important. I am Chair of the Mali AC and know it’s vital from the start to know what your vision is and understand the power of your work. If you’re a Commission member, you need to be aware that there will be arguments and complaints on the pathway forward, and need to work on your communication skills to be better equipped to deal with them. I stress the need to upskill in general so you are ready to cope with the administrative responsibility that comes with running an AC.
A credible AC is not a one-person initiative; it is all about the athletes’ voice, and all those involved must be willing to communicate and compromise in the best interests of everyone. A credible AC should always aim to make a difference to athletes’ lives and help them enact change.
A credible AC is not a one-person initiative; it is all about the athletes’ voice, and all those involved must be willing to communicate and compromise in the best interests of everyone
Spreading the message
Workshops are a great platform to work with emerging ACs and share important knowledge. They’re an informal but constructive way to spread the message of what must be done to become a successful and effective AC. I also encourage Athletes’ Commissions to talk whenever possible with other ACs because there is so much they can learn from other groups – both from their successes and mistakes.
In February earlier this year I travelled to the island of São Tomé and Príncipe [off the coast of West Africa] for a workshop with athlete representatives from ANOCA Zone 4 for two days featuring presentations, discussions and elections. All eight countries from Zone 4 sent two delegates and the event was a valuable experience for the emerging AC representatives. In the early years of my roles with the IOC, the Mali NOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), my focus was mostly on Africa, but I am lucky that it is more international now.
I became an Education Ambassador for the new International Testing Agency (ITA) earlier this year and, along with my role with WADA, I’m committed to spreading the message of clean sport. It’s part of my job now to help educate young athletes and ensure they know the rules and do not, either through ignorance or by accident, make bad mistakes. The anti-doping workshops we run are all about values-based education and emphasising the responsibilities you have.
Helping unite athletes
As an athlete representative, I love having the opportunity to spend so much time with a diverse range of athletes – to talk, to teach but also to learn from you. Athletes are very interesting people, and to be able to pass on knowledge, to hopefully help you in your sporting careers and what comes after, is a privilege.
It is rewarding to watch emerging new leaders of ACs flourish and grow into their jobs. It’s in the DNA of athletes to be rivals and to be competitive, but to see athletes come together to work for a common cause under a single umbrella is an amazing experience.
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