‘I did not use that slur’: Cambage denies abusing Nigerian players

Under fire basketball star Liz Cambage has denied using a racial slur in a violent pre-Olympics warm-up match against Nigeria last year.

Cambage on Sunday helped her WNBA side the LA Sparks to a 85-83 win over Minnesota with 15 points, three rebounds and one assist. After the game, as her teammates and coach rallied to her defence, Cambage published a response to News Corp reports about her acrimonious exit from the Opals squad.

Under fire: Cambage has received the backing of her teammates and coach after further revelations about her Opals exit.Credit:Getty

The 30-year-old denied hurling the word ‘monkey’ at members of the Nigerian team and maintained that her foul against one player, which injured the woman, was “unintentional”, and led to the player assaulting her on the sideline during the game.

“I did not use the racial slur towards the Nigerian team that has been circulating,” Cambage wrote on Instagram on Sunday night from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the game was played.

“After I unintentionally fouled a Nigeria 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.”

It is Cambage’s fullest response to the rumours and accusations that have swirled since her withdrawal from the Olympics in July last year.

Cambage was reprimanded by Basketball Australia in December at the end of what the organisation said was an independent investigation into the incident. At the time, Cambage responded saying there was “zero chance” she would play for the Opals at this year’s World Cup, a stance confirmed by Opals coach Sandy Brondello.

The ABC’s Offsiders program in February aired an allegation she had told the Nigerian team to “go back to your Third World country”, with former Opals captain and longtime close friend of Cambage, Jenna O’Hea, confirming that version of events.

Then on Sunday News Corp published a long piece on the scrimmage, quoting several anonymous players from the Nigerian team, who alleged Cambage did refer to them as ‘monkeys’. It was also alleged she violently tussled with a Nigerian player leaving the woman with a gash in her neck. Embarrassed Australian officials were forced to call off the practice match halfway through, the report said.

Earlier on Sunday, Cambage’s WNBA team rallied behind their under-fire star despite further allegations she hurled racist abuse at members of the Nigerian basketball side last year.

Teammate Nneka Ogwumike and coach Derek Fisher spoke at length about why they’re happy to give the Australian centre a “second chance” after her messy Opals exit.

“We got past it, so whatever agenda is happening with it resurfacing, that’s other people’s businesss,” Ogwumike said. “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, to be transparent and also about [the] power of giving people second chances.

“She would probably have more to say to her side of the story. But as a team we talked about it and addressed it and that’s really what it is. Anything else is really not anyone else’s business unless Liz comes out says what she wants to say, that’s all I have to say about it.”

Sparks guard Chennedy Charter interjected at that point: “And we have Liz’s back.”

“Yeah, we do,” Ogwumike said.

Sparks coach Derek Fisher said the team had done its due diligence on their new recruit and would be standing by Cambage based on what was in the public domain to date.

“From what we understand, most of the information that’s trending or coming out now was or has been investigated, looked into, by the parties that were involved. The Sparks, we were not involved, we weren’t there. The league wasn’t there, involved,” Fisher said.

“So we don’t necessarily have a response in that regard. Other than to say, privately, with the decisions made about Liz being on the team with Australia or not, those are the decisions being made by the facts that they looked into. For us, we had some conversations internally, 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.”

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