Mali: The SBA Mali is born!

With more than 16-years’ experience in Cameroon, the Serge Betsen Academy (SBA) opened a branch in Mali. The opening ceremony, kicking off the start of the rugby training, took place on Saturday 24 October at the AS Real stadium in Bamako. As for the daily after-school tutoring, this will begin in a few weeks, the 25 young girls aged 8 to 13 having now been selected.

SBA Mali banner SBA Mali Girls

Through rugby, we want to offer new perspectives for the future of the 70-90 children who will follow our program. Among them, 25 young female rugby players from very disadvantaged backgrounds will be offered tutoring every day after school, except on Saturday, training day. By preventing them from dropping out of school, we seek to protect them against the scourges that plague Mali, namely forced marriages, teenage pregnancies and female genital mutilation (FGM).  A long struggle for girls’ education and gender equality is underway at the SBA Mali.

It is thanks to our referent on site, Boubacar Traoré a.k.a. “PC” that this opening ceremony was able to take place in the best of conditions. The get together was set-up at the Modibo Keita stadium located in the Djikoroni district. It is on the site of the Sports Association of AS Real in Bamako that the SBA Mali will be able to train and it is thanks to Mr. Sow, its president that we will very soon be able to install, on site, a mobile structure to accommodate our tutoring courses.

Joy and pleasure could be seen on all the faces, especially those of the little ones. About a hundred children were present as well as a few parents and guests who honoured us with their presence.

Before 4 p.m., young and old were ready on the ground and at 4:10 p.m. “PC” greeted the first guest: Mr. Sow’s representative: Mr. Abidine Maiga. We then began the opening ceremony with a presentation of the SBA in Bambara, the lingua franca of Mali.

Ceremony launch SBA Mali

The rugby games kicked off at 4.30 p.m. first with the big players: the national rugby sevens team taking on a team made up of other players from Bamako. Then, the U13 and U15 boys each played a game.

Rugby Matches SBA Mali Rugby Matches SBA Mali

At 5:00 p.m. we played the short video of the great Serge Betsen so that, in a way, he could be there with us too. Because of the global pandemic, sadly he was unable to be physically present for the big occasion.  Still, his encouragements rang out throughout the stadium and served as a good transition, prior to the girls’ games.

The girls appeared on the field and played very close games.  Their game was eagerly awaited, the girls holding a key place in the mission of the SBA Mali.  In the attached video you can appreciate their presence and their fighting spirit on the ground.

It was with great pride that the 25 girls aged 8 to 13, who will receive daily after-school tutoring as part of the first year of SBA Mali, were presented to everyone. As you may know, they were selected by “PC” among the Anges Noirs (Dark Angels) players and a meeting with the parents had been organised beforehand. We specifically chose these young girls to provide them with academic support through Malian teachers chosen by “PC”.  The aim is to help them continue their studies in order to provide them with a safe and healthy environment.

Girls of the SBA Mali tutoring programme

The opening ceremony ended with a well-deserved snack and some dancing.  Our children all seemed happy to meet again next Saturday for another training session.

The SBA Mali is launched, dreams will be fulfilled, lives will be changed.

We would very much like to thank the Malian authorities, H.E. Mahamadou Nimaga and his team from the Embassy of Mali in the USA, Mr. Arouna Modibo Touré, former Minister of Youth and Sports, for their support without which our branch could not have seen the day.

A big thank you also to Mr. Lauran, Vice President of the Rugby Federation of Mali, Dr. Seydou Sow, President of AS Real in Bamako who provided us with the ground for our training and the site for the after-school tutoring.

Our children also greatly appreciated the presence of Manhi Dembelebb, the champion of Mali in bench-press and Samba Benzema Doucoure, Credit Manager at Banque Atlantique, two models of success!

To learn more about the genesis of SBA Mali, please read our Press Release and share it with others, friends and more.  We also take this opportunity to thank the journalists who helped us share the good news about our branch in Mali.


Translation : Katy Birgé-Wilson

Mali: Press Release – Serge Betsen Academy, a proven model in Cameroon now deployed in Mali!

Please download the Word version of our Press Release here: Press Release – Serge Betsen Academy, a proven model in Cameroon now deployed in Mali

With more than 16 years’ experience in Cameroon, Serge Betsen Academy (SBA) opens a branch in Bamako, Mali. Since 2004, SBA has helped more than 6,500 disadvantaged children by using rugby to support their development and to offer a route to education and healthcare. It is Mali’s turn to benefit from this winning formula!



 Since 2004, SBA has supported over 6,500 children in its five centres in Cameroon, run four infirmaries and served 5,600 meals in the last two years thanks to the SBA Coop harvests (a farming cooperative run by mothers of SBA children), secured a baccalaureate success rate always above the national average, reaching 79% in 2019, built 5 wells and 3 water towers, provided 4.5 tons of supplies and insured 60 rugby players a year.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the centres closed from 18 March, to limit the spread of the virus. SBA ran an information campaign regarding preventative measures and provided support to the children and their families. Each child received a food bag every week, as well as soap, and SBA provided 367 reusable face masks, to help families avoid hunger and protect themselves and others. Since 17 June, only those children who are preparing an exam attend the centres. It is a final bit of support in strict sanitary conditions!

In normal times, 400 children benefit from SBA’s help each week. SBA welcomes children of all ages in after school support groups to help them succeed at school, pass their exams and follow their dreams. SBA has a particular focus on supporting girls so they can continue their education and enjoy a setting that is free of prejudices. All children and their families receive good healthcare from the centres’ nurses, including vaccination and awareness-raising campaigns. For example, an antimalarial programme is in train at the five centres.

Rugby practice supports children in acquiring values and life bearings, for both boys and girls. This helps them build character. A “ Rugby for Kids” programme will start in September 2020 to allow 26 girls and 24 boys from disadvantaged families and aged between 2 and 13 to play rugby and to benefit from a structured education both on the rugby field and in the classroom. Together with their families, they will receive the same healthcare support as all other SBA children.



Before joining English side London Wasps, Serge Betsen excelled in French rugby with 63 caps for the national team, two Grand Slams and three titles in the 6 Nations Championship, and one of the highest honours of the French Republic, the Légion d’Honneur as Chevalier. And the France player was also captain and three times French champion with Biarritz Olympique, for which he played all his career while in France and at the time of his first cap in 1997.

A “Knacker” with a big heart, Serge Betsen is French with Cameroonian origins and lives in London. But his soul has remained in Africa. Serge Betsen is clearly a star in Cameroon… and in other African nations, as he recently discovered that Malian rugby players appreciate his on-field exploits.

Serge Betsen is clearly a star in Cameroon… and in other African nations, as he recently discovered that Malian rugby players appreciate his on-field exploits.

In the lead-up to a Mali Cup in Bamako on 29 July 2017, the Hippos XV team from Bamako Rugby Club contacted Serge Betsen Academy to ask for permission to offer a trophy in his image. This trophy was the reward for Best Player in the Mali Cup. Since then, SBA has been in close contact with Bamako’s Hippos XV and has carried out research into options for developing rugby in Mali. SBA met S.E. Mahamadou Nimaga, Mali’s ambassador to the US to learn more about the country and organised a field trip so that Serge Betsen could experience Mali’s rugby set-up.



Serge Betsen, President of SBA and Odile Prévot, CEO therefore went on a field trip to Mali from 4 to 8 January 2020. Its objectives were to assess the situation for Mali’s youths, to identify their needs, to see young girls and boys from Bamako clubs Hippos XV and Anges Noirs [Black Angels] play rugby, to meet the club’s President and coaches so as to test the case for establishing an SBA centre in Bamako.

A further meeting with M. Arouna Modibo Touré, Mali’s Minister of Youth and Sports strengthened their view that an SBA presence in Mali would serve a real purpose and help convey a passion for rugby and SBA’s values to disadvantaged children in Mali.

At the end of the trip, Serge Betsen received a copy of the trophy in his image. This squared the circle in a way as it is because of this trophy that this adventure started!



In March 2020, SBA’s leadership met to vote on whether to start SBA Mali. Boubacar Traoré aka « PC », SBA’s representative in Mali, became Treasurer for SBA Mali.

Unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, SBA delayed the official opening of the Bamako centre to October 2020, but the decision stands. Dr Seydou Sow, President of the Bamako Real sports association, granted SBA Mali access to a rugby field at the Modibo Keïta stadium. Set in Bamako’s Djikoroni neighbourhood, young girls and boys playing for Anges Noirs rugby will be able to train there from the beginning of the school year. SBA will set up a classroom near the stadium entrance to welcome 25 girls for after school tutoring every afternoon. Next step: organising healthcare for those children.

SBA now lends a hand to disadvantaged children in Mali. More lives will improve thanks to rugby! A beautiful story is in the making.



Maïlys Finel : /

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