Nigerian players claim Cambage called them ‘monkeys’ in Olympic warm-up match

Australian basketball star Liz Cambage allegedly called the Nigerian women’s basketball team “monkeys” during an infamous warm-up match before the Tokyo Olympics last year.

According to a News Corp report, two anonymous Nigerian players said that Cambage called them “monkeys” in a heated verbal and physical altercation, for which she was reprimanded by Basketball Australia last year. The independent panel that reprimanded Cambage also cleared her of three other charges relating to the incident.

Liz Cambage allegedly called Nigerian players “monkey” during a scrimmage before the Tokyo Olympics.Credit:Simon Schluter

The exact nature of the altercation – which occurred shortly before Cambage’s withdrawal from the Tokyo Olympics for mental health reasons – had not been publicly disclosed until former Opals captain Jenna O’Hea revealed on the ABC earlier this month that Cambage told her opponents to “go back to your Third World country”.

Tensions reportedly began in the warm-up match after Cambage elbowed a Nigerian defender Victoria Macaulay, causing a wound on her neck.

Later in the game, Cambage slapped an opponent after the pair became entangled, before the Nigerian player charged and struck the WNBA All-Star centre from behind as she walked to the bench, causing further verbal sparring.

“She did say, ‘control your monkey’ or something like that,” one Nigerian player told News Corp.

Another player said Cambage “definitely did use monkeys or monkey”.

A third Nigerian basketballer said Cambage had also said to “go back to your Third World country”.

“I didn’t hear it, but [teammates] confirmed she called us monkeys,” she said.

The match was eventually abandoned, with some Australian and Nigerian players reportedly shaken after the incident, with Cambage allegedly saying to teammates, “why are you all crying? I’m the one who got hit.”

Cambage has not played for the Opals since, with the 30-year-old declaring she had “zero interest” in joining the Australian women’s side for the upcoming World Cup in Sydney. The team was also reportedly planning not to select her in a preliminary squad for the tournament last December.

The Los Angeles Sparks centre also reportedly complained to a Nigerian player that she wished she could play for the Nigerian team as her Australian teammates were racists.

“She was really complimenting us, and she was saying that her Australian team is racist. This was on the day of the scrimmage,” a Nigerian player said.

The dominant centre also reportedly apologised to the Nigerian team for the altercation during the warm-up match at a dinner the following night and received a mixed reception.

Australian teammates also claimed Cambage violated COVID-19 protocols by leaving the team’s bubble in Las Vegas, where the team was based for practice matches and training ahead of the Olympics. Cambage has previously denied this.

Several Australian players were also reportedly frustrated with the lack of accountability for Cambage, who allegedly was disengaged in other practices in Las Vegas and had caused numerous incidents within the team before the Nigeria scrimmage.

“We held on to 2018 Liz and let standards slip in an attempt to keep her happy, but she became more demanding and selfish,” one Opals player reportedly said.

Earlier this month, Cambage said the Opals had failed to support her while she played for the team.

“I’m living my best life, I’m supported and protected on a level that the Opals and Australian team never gave to me,” Cambage said.

Basketball Australia declined to comment, while Cambage’s management did not respond to enquiries.

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