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Journalism Showcase: SportsCenter’s “A Chance to Play” tells basketball’s inspiring impact on women’s lives in Rwanda

ESPN's Mark Fainaru-Wada explains the motivation for the feature, debuting Sunday, March 10: "It just seemed like such powerful and impactful work, felt like such an obvious story for us to do."

WNBA and women’s college basketball games showcase artistry and competitive fire – and their popularity is exploding. Meanwhile, a world away, the beauty of basketball has little to do with a shot or a win.

ESPN reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada shows basketball videos to young Rwandans. (Willie Weinbaum/ESPN)

For International Women’s Day (today) and Women’s History Month (March), SportsCenter will air a new feature from ESPN’s Investigative and Enterprise Unit that looks at how basketball is changing the lives of women and young girls in the East African country of Rwanda.

Reported by Mark Fainaru-Wada with producer Willie Weinbaum, “A Chance to Play” details how thousands of women and girls in Rwanda are overcoming patriarchy and poverty just to get to play – and live far healthier lives.

The feature will debut in the 11 a.m. ET hour of SportsCenter on Sunday, March 10, leading into ESPN College GameDay at noon. A digital treatment written by Fainaru-Wada and Weinbaum has been published on

Fainaru-Wada spoke to Front Row:

How did you hear about the basketball initiative in Rwanda?
In the leadup to a trip to Rwanda for a different story, I was doing some research into the growth of basketball there, and I read about this organization called Shooting Touch. So, when I got to Rwanda, I made contact with some folks involved with the group and ended up spending some time out in the villages and learning about what they were doing. It just seemed like such powerful and impactful work; felt like such an obvious story for us to do.

Had you ever traveled in Africa? Did you and your team get a lot of local help?
I’d never been to Africa, so Rwanda was my first exposure to the continent. Rwanda is quite amazing, particularly given its history of a relatively recent genocide — just 30 years ago — and its efforts to recover from that. In the reporting, we benefitted greatly from working with Ivan Mugisha, a local journalist who not only helped us navigate the country but, more than that, was critical in coordinating our Shooting Touch interviews, serving as an on-site translator, and basically troubleshooting any and all issues.

What do you hope viewers and readers take away from this story?>
It’s quite cliché, but it’s so easy to lose sight and perspective of the things we take for granted. I think what’s remarkable about Shooting Touch is not just that the organization went into these starkly patriarchal and poor areas of the one of the world’s poorest countries, but, even more, that so many of the women in these villages have had the courage to seize the opportunity and push back against extremely powerful and entrenched norms.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Shooting Touch is holding an International Women’s Day Celebration in Rwanda on March 16. It will include a basketball tournament, medical testing, and educational speakers – all to promote gender equality and women’s health.

Fainaru-Wada: “Rwanda is quite amazing, particularly given its history of a relatively recent genocide — just 30 years ago — and its efforts to recover from that.” (Willie Weinbaum/ESPN)
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