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The Liz Cambage & Australian Olympic Committee Controversy, Explained

The basketball star has called out the lack of diversity in recent photos.

Australian basketball star Liz Cambage has sparked a debate among the sporting community this week for recent comments she made which criticised the lack of diversity in Australian media, adding she would be boycotting the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. Cambage, who plays club basketball in the WNBA in the U.S., has represented the Opals at the past two Olympic Games and revealed she was “done” after seeing the Australian Olympic team promotional photos recently released, which featured only one athlete of colour. 

From Cambage’s initial comments to what the sporting community has said, read on for a breakdown of the controversy. 

Cambage First Criticised The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) For Its Lack Of Diversity In Promotional Photos. 

On May 7, 2021, Cambage threatened to boycott the Tokyo Olympic Games after accusing the AOC of “whitewashing” when two promotional photoshoots involving several members of the upcoming Olympic team were released, featuring just one athlete of colour. 

Alongside an ad for underwear brand Jockey, Cambage wrote: “I’ve said it once. I’ve said it a million times. HOW AM I MEANT TO REPRESENT A COUNTRY THAT DOESN’T EVEN REPRESENT ME #whitewashedaustralia,” the sports star wrote. “Y’all really do anything to remove POCs from the forefront when it’s black athletes leading the pack until I see you doing more @ausolympicteam imma sit this one out.”

Cambage Receives Backlash For Claiming “Fake Tan” Didn’t Equal Diversity.”

The second photo Cambage called attention to was of the Olympic team in the upcoming uniform designed by Asics, where she wrote: “also fake tan doesn’t equal diversity.” 

Those comments, in particular, sparked backlash, as the photo included Indigenous rugby sevens player Maurice Longbottom, who was wearing an Olympic shirt featuring Aboriginal artwork designed by Yuggera man Paul Fleming, who represented Australia as a boxer at the 2008 Olympics.

Cambage later apologised directly to Longbottom, claiming the media used him as a “tool” following her comments.

“To Mr. Longbottom, I’m sorry that you got caught up in this. I did not think you had fake tan on, I was never saying that, I was saying that for the rest of the photo,” she said. “I’m so sorry from the bottom of my heart that things got twisted today and the media used you as a tool to defer from the real issue—that Australia is ignorant.”


The AOC Said It “Acknowledges Liz Cambage’s Point”, But Has Been Proud Of Its Promotion Of Diversity In Previous Years. 

On May 7, 2021, the AOC released a statement in response to Cambage’s comments. 

“The AOC acknowledges Liz Cambage’s point with regard to this particular photoshoot,” it said. “The athletes made available to Jockey could and should have better reflected the rich diversity of athletes who represent Australia at the Olympic Games.

“The AOC does however have a very proud history of celebrating and promoting diversity in all its forms. From Indigenous reconciliation, people of colour, gender equality and all forms of diversity, the AOC is rightly proud of its record.”

Following The AOC’s Statement, Cambage Defended Her Comments Further. 

In response to the AOC’s statement, the 29-year-old followed up with a passionate response via Instagram Stories. 

“Australia, wake the f*ck up,” she began. “I’m not playing these games no more, I’m not. You can try and twist my words however you want. It’s not going to work. I’m not taking any media, I’m not doing any interviews. I’m not talking to you. Listen here.

“I know who Maurice Longbottom is, he was the one wearing the indigenous uniform. I wasn’t saying he had fake tan on, I’m talking about the rest of the photo. One token POC in a photo is not good enough at AOC. That’s what I’m talking about.

“To all the white Australians in my DM’s in my comments talking sh*t about me, I don’t actually care. Your ignorance is embarrassing and it’s sad. And I feel really sorry for you that you have literally zero empathy and lack of respect to even try and understand where I, a black woman, is trying to speak out on the lack of diversity in Australia.” 

Cambage finished up by saying the apology didn’t mean “anything” and she’d rather see action going forward. 

“And yes, I saw the apology, words don’t mean anything to me, actions mean something to me. So let me see it. Because until then I’m not buying shit. And that’s just how it is. And I’m going to keep talking my shit because I’m doing it for the little girls and little boys who are people of colour. Asian, black, indigenouswherever you’re from in this whole world. It’s important to see people who look like you in the media. And white Australia, you would never understand that, because you’ve never had to deal with it.” 

liz cambage

Australian Sporting Stars Said They Agreed With The Comments, But Claimed The Way Cambage Went About It Was “Disrespectful.” 

Following Cambage’s comments, Australian tennis star Todd Woodbridge claimed the way the issue was brought up was “disrespectful” to the athletes in the promotional photos. 

My initial thought was, don’t do it that way,” Woodbridge told Channel 9’s Sports Sunday. “Why do it that way? Why do it with the anger and the threats? You cannot threaten to pull out of representing your country, you’ve got the privilege to be there and to do something special.” 

Woodbridge then compared Cambage’s actions to other athletes, including Naomi Osaka and Ash Barty. 

If you want to do something like that, why don’t you do it the way Naomi Osaka did it? I mean, she changed the world. She didn’t have to get out there and use language and threaten us all that we’ve done the wrong thing,” he said. “I’d say, good on you for standing up for it but there are ways. We’ve got another great ambassador here in Australia we just spoke about, Ash Barty; she does it the right way. That’s not her style.” 

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