Sparks’ Liz Cambage denies directing racial slurs at Nigeria team during pre-Olympic scrum in Las Vegas

Los Angeles Sparks center Liz Cambage on Sunday pushed back against a report from an Australian newspaper that she directed a racial slur at the Nigeria women’s basketball team during a pre-Olympic scrimmage the year last in Las Vegas.

“The incident which occurred during the pre-Olympic meeting with the Nigerian national team was dealt with in private almost a year ago,” wrote Cambage, who was then playing for the women’s national team. Australian, Sunday evening in a statement posted on Instagram. . “I am very disappointed and hurt by the events and accusations that have unfolded in the Australian media. The account of what happened is inaccurate and misleading. I did not use the racial slur towards the team Nigerian woman who circulated.”

The report, published this weekend in The Sunday Telegraph, an affiliate of News Corp, cites two unnamed members of the Nigerian squad who said they heard Cambage refer to them as ‘monkeys’ during the closed-door melee at the UNLV. A third player told the newspaper that Cambage also said: ‘Go back to your third world country’.

Cambage, whose father is Nigerian, played several years for the Australian women’s basketball team, the Opals.

News Corp Australia said it obtained video of the scrimmage – held on July 13, 2021, the day before the WNBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas – which showed Cambage elbowing a Nigerian opponent in the head and neck , before a timeout was called and Cambage was taken out of the game. According to the newspaper’s description of the video, Cambage then returned to the game and became entangled in an ensuing game with another Nigerian player, that she slapped. As Cambage was heading to the bench after being substituted, this same Nigerian player came up behind Cambage and hit her on the temple. It was then that Cambage allegedly made the disparaging remarks.

In his Instagram post on Sunday, Cambage wrote, “After unintentionally fouling a Nigerian player on the pitch, I was then physically assaulted by this player on the touchline of my bench. I was punched in the face and pushed to the ground, but I We did not have professional referees to manage and prioritize the safety of the two teams during this very physical scrum.

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

According to The Sunday Telegraph, Cambage apologized for her actions at a Nigerian squad dinner the day after the scrimmage. She also offered a “light” apology to her Opals teammates, a member of the Australian squad told the newspaper.

Cambage, who played for the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces in 2019 and 2021, suited up for the All-Star Game the following day but did not take the field. A day later, she withdrew from the Australian national team, citing mental health issues, and she did not play at the Tokyo Olympics.

Basketball Australia conducted an independent review into Cambage’s conduct during the scrimmage with Nigeria and announced in November that she would receive a formal reprimand but would not be fined or suspended. This meant she was still eligible to take part in the FIBA ​​Basketball World Cup 2022, which will be held in September in Australia.

But in December, Cambage posted part of an email from Basketball Australia on social media asking if she wanted to be considered for the World Cup squad, and Cambage said she didn’t ” no interest”. This seemed to officially end Cambage’s connection to the national team.

However, Aussies were further upset when Cambage, in an interview ahead of the start of the 2022 WNBA season, said the Sparks “protected her” and wanted her to succeed in ways she didn’t think. not that the Australian team had succeeded.

Jenna O’Hea, who was Australia’s captain for the Tokyo Olympics, said during an appearance on an Australian sports TV show earlier this month that Cambage had told Nigerian players to “get back in your third world country”.

Australian team coach Sandy Brondello, who now coaches the WNBA’s New York Liberty, said in a pre-game video call on Sunday about the Cambage-Nigeria incident: “At the moment, I I’m not going to comment. To be completely honest, I “I’ve really moved on. It wasn’t a very fun time, this situation. I’ll comment when the time is right.”

Cambage signed as a free agent with the Sparks in February, and she’s currently averaging 15.6 points and 5.9 rebounds. Sparks coach Derek Fisher was asked on Sunday if Cambage’s alleged scrimmage comments came as Los Angeles seeks to add him to its roster.

“We had a few conversations internally — ownership, some of our players, management — and decided that Liz would be welcome on our team,” Fisher said. “That’s how we see it right now.

“If there are things that continue to come out and are confirmed at a later date, we will talk about it at that time. At the moment this is something that we believe is pretty much over. .”

The Sparks’ sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike both wanted to play for the Nigeria national team last summer after Nneka was dropped from the USA roster. However, due to his long past with USA Basketball, Nneka was denied the opportunity to play with Nigeria, per FIBA ​​regulations, and Chiney opted out. Their younger sister, Erica Ogwumike, played for Nigeria.

Nneka Ogwumike said in a video call on Sunday that the incident between Cambage and the Nigerian team was discussed by the Sparks players.

“We’re past that point. Whatever agenda is going on with that is everybody else’s business,” she said. “Quite frankly, we talked about it before she came to the team. And, okay, people have their own story of what happened. But we talked about it. We talked about the importance for us to be together, to be transparent and also the power to give people a second chance.”

Cambage concluded her statement on Instagram on Sunday saying that she has “taken responsibility and responsibility for my involvement in what happened. I have sincerely apologized to the Nigerian team and I am once again sorry that these events be reworked.

“I really hope that I can move forward after this incident and apply concrete efforts to be at my best.”

ESPN’s Alexa Philippou contributed to this report.

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