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Sparks’ Liz Cambage denies using racial slur toward Nigerian players

Liz Cambage, shown here playing this WNBA season for the Los Angeles Sparks, denied making racial comments toward Nigerian players while playing for Australia's national team last year. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Sparks center Liz Cambage denied directing racial slurs toward Nigerian women’s basketball players while playing for the Australian national team in a closed-door scrimmage before the Tokyo Olympics.

The Sunday Telegraph obtained video that shows Cambage — the daughter of a Nigerian father and Australian mother — elbowing a Nigerian player in the head and slapping another player across the face during the July scrimmage in Las Vegas, which took place one day before the WNBA All-Star Game. She then calls the players “monkeys” and tells them to “go back to your third-world country.”

In an Instagram post Sunday, Cambage called the Telegraph account “inaccurate and misleading” and said she “did not use the racial slur towards the Nigerian team that has been circulating.”

“After I unintentionally fouled a Nigerian player on court I was then physically assaulted by this player on the sideline of my bench,” Cambage wrote. “I was hit in the face and pushed to the ground but I walked away. Prior to the game I asked to sit out because I was concerned about my mental and physical health, which I have addressed publicly. We did not have professional referees to manage and prioritise both teams’ safety during this highly physical scrimmage.

“This is not an excuse or justification to the events that unfolded or my actions, however, I feel that a full picture of the environment that led to this outcome must be shared.”

Cambage pulled out of last year’s Olympics two days after the scrimmage and only 11 days before Australia’s first game, saying she was a “long way” from her physical and mental peak. She said she had been experiencing panic attacks for the previous month, had been neither sleeping nor eating and had been taking medication to help with anxiety.

In May 2021, Cambage threatened to boycott the Games after a promotional photo shoot featuring Australian Olympians and Paralympians failed to include any athletes of color, and the Telegraph report says Cambage told the Nigerian players before the scrimmage that she wished she was playing for Nigeria and not Australia because her teammates were racists. The Telegraph adds that Cambage apologized to the Nigerian players a day after the scrimmage, though one Nigerian player said she didn’t think it was sincere.

Australia would end up winning only one of four games in Tokyo but advanced to the quarterfinals, where the Opals were eliminated by the United States. It was the team’s second straight Olympic quarterfinal elimination after medaling in five straight Games from 1996 to 2012.

In November, Basketball Australia reprimanded Cambage after conducting an investigation of the incident during the scrimmage but said she remained eligible to play for the national team at the FIBA World Cup, which will be held in September in Australia. But in December, Cambage posted a story to her Instagram in which she told Basketball Australia she has “zero” interest in returning to the national team.

Cambage reiterated that stance in an interview before the WNBA regular season began, telling Australia’s ABC network that she was “living my best life” with the Sparks and that she was “protected on a level that the Opals or the Australian team never gave to me.”

New York Liberty Coach Sandy Brondello, Australia’s Olympic coach last year, declined to discuss the situation at length during a video call with reporters Sunday.

“Right now, I’m not going to make a comment,” she said. “To be quite honest, I’ve really moved on from it. It wasn’t a very fun time, that situation. I’ll make a comment at an appropriate time.”

Nneka Ogwumike, a first-generation Nigerian American who attempted to join Nigeria’s Olympic team last year but was denied by FIBA regulations, is one of Cambage’s teammates on the Sparks. She told reporters Sunday that the team had discussed the scrimmage incident and was “past it.”

“Whatever agenda is happening with it resurfacing, that’s other people’s business,” she said, per ESPN. “Quite frankly, we talked about it before she came to the team. And, granted, people have their own accounts of what happened. But we addressed it. We talked about how important it is for us to be together, be transparent, and also the power of giving people second chances.”

Cambage has started all 10 games for the Sparks this season and is averaging 15.6 points and 5.9 rebounds, both second best on the team behind Ogwumike.

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