TOGO : Togo basketball federation president honoured by IOC

GENEVA (IOC) - Dr Nadouvi Lawson Body, the president of Togo's Basketball Federation, on Thursday was at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne to receive her trophy as winner of the 2011 IOC Women and Sport Award for Africa.

Dr Lawson Body, who is also the Vice-President of Togo's National Olympic Committee, was presented the award by Anita DeFrantz - the IOC member and Chair of the IOC Women and Sport Commission Anita DeFrantz - for her outstanding contribution to basketball and sports overall in her country.

As the first-ever woman to serve as president of a sporting federation in Togo, Dr Lawson Body is a great example to follow.

On Friday, she stopped by FIBA's headquarters in Geneva where she was congratulated by FIBA Secretary-General and IOC member Patrick Baumann.

She took time to answers questions for

FIBA: Dr Lawson Body, congratulations on your award. Can you tell us what this honour means to you?
Dr Lawson Body: Thank you very much. It was very important to receive this award because it shows that what I have accomplished in Togo has been recognised beyond my country's borders. So this award is a coronation and the reward of what I have done since I started getting involved in basketball a decade ago.

It also rewards what we have done in promoting women in the sport, both in terms of them playing basketball and also being involved in the offices, in the administrative side. The activities of our federation show that we really are pushing the development of women as referees and as coaches as well as the women's teams. Also, in my administration, great efforts have been made to promote the place and the role of women in the offices of the federation, something which was not easy at all under the previous president.

FIBA: After winning this award, what message do you want to send out to women in Togo, in Africa and throughout the rest of the world?
Dr Lawson Body: The message I want to send out to women is to dare to try. It's very hard to see women in positions of power in the world of sports because there are so many men and they may not always want you to see the women, particularly in Africa. But the message is for women to dare to try - whether they're trying to play a sport or trying to run the administrative side of a sport federation.

When you get to that level of running a federation, it's still very hard because a woman running a sport entity is not easy. But there are some advantages. For example I think I'm able to open doors that perhaps men can't open, especially when you talk about sponsorship or partnerships. Sometimes, when a woman is there to run an account with a company, there's more trust. But overall, you really have to dare because I really think that women can show they can be men's equal.

FIBA: Can you explain your rise in power in the world of Togo sports administration? What have been the major steps in reaching your current positions?
Dr Lawson Body: I went up the ladder step by step. I wasn't a basketball player so I started out my involvement in the sport as president of the club my kids played in. I started some activities there which were successful and, as a result of what I brough to the club, the basketball league in the capital city of Lome contacted me and offered me to run it. I did so for two years.

From there, people started telling me that I could do a lot of good for the national federation. I received a lot of support and that's how I became the first female president of a sports federation in Togo. The success I have had then led to my being offered the position of Vice-President of the National Olympic Committee.

FIBA: Does being President of the national Basketball Federation and Vice-President of the National Olympic Committee at the same time have advantages?
Dr Lawson Body: There are advantages because if you have goals and are looking for opportunities for development and training or formation (of referees, coaches, players), you can see what basketball has to gain. That is what has allowed our federation to benefit from the Olympic Solidarity.

FIBA: What have been the best moments of your presidency so far?
Dr Lawson Body: The best moment of my presidency really stands alone and that's Togo's men's national team qualifying for the Afrobasket. We haven't competed in the tournament in more than 30 years and we really haven't been anywhere on the map of African basketball in that period of time. We were left behind in terms of infrastructures and modernisation. We didn't really follow that up and so basketball had really hit rock bottom in the country.

When I arrived, I made the infrastructures and the training my priorities but I also said that before my term came to an end, we had to make sure that we qualified for Afrobasket. And that's been the biggest moment.

We have trained five commissioners. Before our administration, there had never been a single basketball commissioner in Togo. So we have done a lot of good things, but Togo qualifying for Afrobasket is the coronation really because it's what you see and that's what helps to grow the sport.

Football is our measuring stick and we see ourselves as being the number two sport in the country behind it. However, basketball is the only team sport in which Togo has qualified for African Continental Championships. SO we're trying to position basketball right behind football and we're accomplishing that.

FIBA: Have you set any particular goals for the team going to Afrobasket?
Dr Lawson Body: The goal for the team going to Madagascar is to finish mid-table. We're not going to come home with the winner's trophy, but at the same time we don't want to finish last either. This is our first participation in more than 30 years so we're thinking that we need to show we can accomplish something. Let's show that we belong. And that will allow Togo to try to qualify for upcoming competitions because the state and our partners will have confidence in us. So we're hoping that we can come away from Madagascar with an honourable mention.

FIBA: What is the state of women's basketball in Togo at the moment?
Dr Lawson Body: The level of play in women's basketball isn't high enough at the moment so we won't qualify for competitions. It's not easy to get basketball at the level it needs to be especially for women. You have to keep in mind that basketball is not professional in Togo. It's amateur for both men and women so we have a lot of students. The men's team to play at Afrobasket will consist of six ex-pats and six local players.

FIBA: You have organised a women's basketball tournament that you hold on International Women's Day. Can you tell us more about it?
Dr Lawson Body: Yes but really what we do on that day goes beyond basketball. We organise a women's basketball tournament and invite all the women who are CEOs, heads of companies and also women ministers to come and take part. We find sponsors for the teams. The goal is to promote women in their professions.

We look to reward women who work in areas where you wouldn't usually find them. For example women who are lorry or truck drivers, women who are mechanics and so on. We want to get awareness about it because it's something that goes unnoticed. So the tournament is a big celebration of women. We have women referees, women's a celebration of the diversity of professional women.

FIBA: Overall how do you see the state of basketball in Togo?
Dr Lawson Body: Basketball is definitely growing. Four years ago basketball was nowhere and had no sense of direction. Back then the national federation had no offices. Now, thanks to FIBA Africa we have offices. We didn't have indoor or covered courts. Now we have those and we can have competitions and raise the level of play.

So basketball is definitely growing and on the rise. Now, with the help of the sponsors and our peers - FIBA Africa, FIBA and the Olympic Solidarity - I really believe that we can develop basketball that much more.