Tchatchouang and Ayayi: Leading women's basketball to new heights

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Diandra Tchatchouang and Valeriane Ayayi-Vukosavljević will play on the French women’s basketball team at Tokyo 2020 and are spokespeople for improving the representation of women in sport. They spoke  exclusively to Tokyo 2020 about the need for female role models and the lack of visibility in women’s sport.

Valeriane Ayayi-Vukosavljević and Diandra Tchatchouang will both attempt to lead the French women’s basketball team to gold this summer at the Tokyo 2020 Games that will take place in 2021. Both of them are seen as leaders of the French national team and their respective club sides. And both are deeply involved in efforts to improve the position of women in sport.

In an exclusive interview with Tokyo 2020, the two agreed that while women’s sport has evolved over the past decades, there is still a long way to go.

“It’s still complicated,” said Ayayi-Vukosavljević, who will compete at her second Olympic Games this summer following her debut at Rio 2016. "It's changing, of course, but this is a fight we have been leading for many years. We are fighting for more visibility."

"Watching women's basketball gave me the will to do the same"

For teammate Diandra Tchatchouang, visibility is the key to increasing the profile of women’s sport.

“It starts with visibility. We tend to think people don’t watch women’s sport, but it’s just that they don’t have the opportunity. The first step is to increase visibility.”

The small-forward from Montpellier in the south of France, admits that she would never have stepped onto a basketball court if she hadn’t seen women’s basketball on TV.

“When I was younger, I had the chance to have a paid TV channel where they broadcast some matches. I remember those games, when Valenciennes and Bourges were two of the best teams. It played a big role in my life. Being able to see them on the court gave me the will to do the same.”

Beyond the lack of live broadcasts, Tchatchouang regrets the fact that the media in general aren’t keen to talk about women’s sport.

“When I read the news and see there is nothing about women’s sport, I think it’s a shame and offensive. It’s not normal. This is the fight we are leading as female athletes.”

Ayayi-Vukosavljević, who plays in the same position for Basket Landes after two years with USK Praga, shared her thoughts.

“The media don’t bet on women’s basketball, but we are fighting against that. We have had good results and we know it works well. We know that if presented with the same performance, the media will focus on the men’s one. It’s up to us to fight to change this.”

I was close to quitting school and missing out on the journey I am on.

I had no role models, and when I realised that, Take your shot was born.

The initiatives of Tchatchouang to encourage young girls to play basketball

Without visibility, it’s hard for women to dream about being an elite athlete because they have no role models to be inspired by. For this reason, Tchatchouang created Take your shot four years ago. The project is an annual day where girls from the area she grew up in Paris, Seine Saint-Denis, gather to try basketball and find inspiration.

She developed the initiative based on her own experiences.

“I asked myself what I needed when I was a child. I started basketball at age eight, but nothing was obvious to me. I was close to quitting school and missing out on the journey I am on. I had no role models, and when I realised that, Take your shot was born. When we don't have a role model, it's difficult to plan ahead and dream.”

Once a year, she invites female basketball players to participate, as well as athletes like former international football player Laura Georges or celebrities and women with a leading role, in order show them that women having success in basketball isn’t just a dream.

"We want to encourage them to start basketball and tell them: 'we succeeded, so why not you?'"

"Nowadays, it's not possible"

Today, social media allows everyone to communicate with the world. It’s a tool that Ayayi-Vukosavljević, who is the older sister of NCAA basketball player from Gonzaga Bulldogs Joel Ayayi, believes can play a role in women’s sport.

“Social media is very useful for our visibility and we need to unite to increase the reach of our voices.”

It’s exactly what happened when a young player posted something offensive on Twitter.

“He wanted to make fun of one of his teammates by saying, ‘you play like a woman’. All the girls reacted straight away. That type of comment isn’t an insult, it’s not mean - but nowadays, it’s not possible,” explained the 26-year-old, who has the best points ratio on Basket Landes, the team where she shares the court with French legend Céline Dumerc, winner of the silver medal at London 2012.

Céline Dumerc - the symbol of French women's basketball

According to Ayayi-Vukosavljević, Dumerc is one of the women who inspires her, along with all the other French women who play basketball. 

“When we look at Céline, we see the symbol of French women's basketball. And this is the image we are trying to share, along with its inherent values. More than a basketball player, Céline is an athlete. She is recognised in the street, she is in another dimension.”

Now 38-years-old, Dumerc is also a 2009 European Championship winner and, along with her playing role with Basket Landes, she is the general manager of the French national team, for which she also holds the appearance record for both men and women (262). According to Ayayi-Vukosavljević, Dumerc has played a major role in popularising women’s basketball. 

“Before her, there was no media coverage, but now our league is recognised and respected. Her media impact has been huge.”

Fighting on the court to win in society

Along with their manager Dumerc, Ayayi-Vukosavljević and Tchatchouang will fly to Tokyo this summer with a goal of going one better than the team did in London.

"The goal is clear: we want to win,” said Tchatchouang, who will compete at her first Games in Tokyo at age 30, after suffering an injury ahead of Rio 2016.

In the group stage, France will face the United States, winners of the last six Olympic gold medals, as well as Nigeria and hosts Japan. But for Tchatchouang, whose ambition is clear, that won’t be a problem.

"When we have such high expectations, we need to be able to beat anyone.”

A battle on the court that could lead to a win in society: following in the footsteps of Céline Dumerc to make women's basketball more visible and attractive for future generations.