Los Angeles Sparks center Liz Cambage responded to an Australian media report about the altercation that ended her Australian national team career ahead of last summer’s Olympics.
According to an investigative report by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Cambage allegedly used racial epithets, calling the Nigerian team “monkeys” and telling them to “go back to your third-world country” during an incident that began when she hit one of their players with a hard elbow.
Cambage denied the allegations and claimed that she was “physically assaulted,” in a post on her Instagram page Sunday night.
The incident that took place during the pre-Olympic scrimmage with the Nigerian team was handled privately, almost a year ago.
I am very disappointed and hurt by the events and accusations that have unfolded in the Australian media. The recount of what took place is inaccurate and misleading.
I 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. 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.
I have taken responsibility and accountability for my involvement in what occurred. I genuinely apologised to the Nigerian team and I once again, am sorry that these events are being rehashed.
I truly hope that I can move forward from this incident and apply actionable effort to be my best self.
Reported details of the Olympic training altercation
The incident happened at a closed scrimmage between Australia and Nigeria in Las Vegas in July, a little over a week before the Olympics were scheduled to begin.
Things first got tense with the elbow, which can be seen here. Then tensions reportedly escalated when Cambage re-entered the game, got tangled up with a Nigerian player, then allegedly slapped her across the face. The Nigerian player allegedly struck Cambage from behind as she walked back to the bench, leading the her to unload on her opponents.
From The Daily Telegraph:
Two Nigerian players confirmed they directly heard Cambage refer to them as “monkeys”.
“She did say, ‘Control your monkeys’ or something like that,” one player said. “The stuff she was saying was ridiculous.
The second player said: “That’s what I recall, the term monkeys, yes. And go back to where you came from.
A third player told this investigation: “I was on the court. She definitely said go back to your third world country. I didn’t hear it, but (teammates) confirmed she called us monkeys.”
The day after the altercation, Cambage, whose father is Nigerian, reportedly covered a Nigerian team dinner to apologize for her actions, leading to a mixed reaction. She also apologized to the Australian team, which was described as “lighthearted” by one player.
Perplexingly, Cambage had spent the time before the scrimmage praising the Nigerian team and describing her own team as racist, according to a Nigerian player:
On the day of the practice game, a Nigerian player has revealed Cambage approached one of her teammates and told her: “Liz was telling her, ‘Oh my god, I wish I was playing for the Nigerian national team’.
“She was really complimenting us, and she was saying that her Australian team is racist. This was on the day of the scrimmage.
“It’s like something in a movie, unrealistic.”
The rest of the article paints a picture of an Australian team desperate to keep their star happy in the run-up to the Olympics, to the frustration of her teammates. Cambage publicly lashed out at the team earlier this month, saying the team failed to support her.
Also earlier this month, former Opals captain Jenna O’Hea confirmed the training camp incident and said Cambage told the Nigerian players to “go back to your third world country.”
The Nigeria altercation resulted in Cambage facing a potential removal from the Australian team, but she instead announced her own withdrawal. In a statement, Cambage claimed she was leaving the team over concerns about her mental health in the Olympic bubble.
Cambage, a four-time WNBA All-Star, is currently in her first season with the Los Angeles Sparks after two seasons with the Las Vegas Aces. She was drafted No. 2 overall by the Tulsa Shock in 2011.
Sparks coach Derek Fisher supported Cambage before the Sparks’ game Sunday against the Minnesota Lynx.
“For us, we had some conversations internally — [with] ownership, with some of our players, management. Made the decision that Liz would be a welcome part of our team and that’s the way we’re looking at that at the moment,” Fisher said, via the Los Angeles Times. “If there are things that I guess continue to trend or come out that are confirmed at a later date, we’ll address that at that time in terms of how we feel about it. But right now, it’s something that in our opinion is pretty much complete, it’s just folks bringing it back up and expressing how they feel about it.
“But at this point, we don’t have much else to comment on, other than it was investigated, looked into and all we can do right now is focus on tonight and how we’re going to handle things moving forward. And if there are things to address to speak to at a different time, we’ll definitely do so.”
Cambage’s teammate, Nneka Ogwumike, who is also the president of the WNBPA and Nigerian, said after the Sparks’ game that the team had discussed the incident prior to Cambage joining the Sparks in the offseason.
“We got past it. So whatever agenda is happening with it resurfacing, that’s other people’s business,” Ogwumike said after the Sparks’ win Sunday, via the Times. “And 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 and we talked about how important it is for us to be together, be transparent and also empower giving people second chances.
“She could probably have more to say to her side of the story, but as a team, we talked about it and addressed it and anything else is really not anyone else’s business unless Liz comes out and says what she wants to say. That’s kind of all I have to say about that.”