Liz Cambage threatens boycotting Tokyo Olympics in calling out 'whitewashed' Australian photos

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Las Vegas Aces center and Australian national team star Liz Cambage is threatening a boycott of the Tokyo Olympics after an Olympic Australia promotional photo didn't include athletes of color. 

Cambage, who is Black, shared a photo of a Jockey Australia photoshoot with Olympic and Paralympic athletes to her Instagram stories, writing "HOW AM I MEANT TO REPRESENT A COUNTRY THAT DOESN’T EVEN REPRESENT ME." She included a #whitewashedaustralia" hashtag. 

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She added, "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."

In the next frame the 29-year-old shared a photo direct from the Australian Olympic team handle on March 30 that unveiled the new uniforms. She wrote underneath, "also fake tan doesn't equal diversity." 

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In one final frame she shared a video of Australian sprinter Cathy Freeman, who won gold in the 400-meters at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. 

"also just to remind you Australia’s GREATEST sporting moment was thanks too BLACK INDIGIDENOUS WOMAN,” she wrote.

Cambage, born in London to a Nigerian father and Australian mother, represented Australia at the past two Olympic games. She has been vocal, especially in the past year, about racism in her native country. In June 2020, amid protests following George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis, she said in an emotional Instagram post, "we have blood all over our hands, Australia." While home during COVID-19 lockdowns, she called out Australians for focusing on the United States when they had their own racial justice work to do at home. 

Australian Olympic committee comments on Cambage 

The Australian Olympic committee released a statement acknowledging "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."

It went on to note it is considering changes to the constitution to ensure proper Indigenous Australian representation on its Athletes Committee. And that it would work to "reflect our broad diversity of athletes" in further photoshoots. 

Former Australian coach calls Cambage remarks 'inappropriate'

Tom Maher, the women's nation team coach during its first two Olympic medals in 1996 and 2000, called the comments "inappropriate" in an interview with The Australian (h/t The Washington Post). 

“It is inappropriate to make such a big deal out of pretty much nothing,” Maher told the Australian. 

“There have been no bad intentions (in posts of the athletes). Was there a homosexual athlete represented? Was there a Chinese Australian athlete mentioned? I mean, where does it end?

“If I was coach, I wouldn’t entertain any threats at all. If she wants to come, she can come, but if she told me she was going to boycott I’d say, ‘Good luck, see you later.’

“She is a great player, but the issues need to be attended to in the right environment. Right now if you are an Olympian, you could make the protest without making the threat.

“That would be a more appropriate way of dealing with it.”

Basketball Australia declined to comment to The Australian. Cambage is currently in Las Vegas preparing for the WNBA season-opener a week from Saturday. 

Cambage continues to speak out about diversity

CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 28: Liz Cambage's of the Flyers looks on during the round three WNBL match between the Townsville Fire and the Southside Flyers at Cairns Pop Up Arena, on November 28, 2020, in Cairns, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 28: Liz Cambage's of the Flyers looks on during the round three WNBL match between the Townsville Fire and the Southside Flyers at Cairns Pop Up Arena, on November 28, 2020, in Cairns, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Cambage took to Instagram again in the early hours of Friday and spoke directly about the issue in longer terms to Australians specifically. 

"Australia, wake the f*** up," she said. "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." 

Cambage said "one token person of color" in a photo is not good enough, and made sure to apologize to Maurice Longbottom, an Indigenous Australian rugby star, for getting pulled into the controversy. Longbottom is in the photo of the new uniforms that she criticized for "fake tan." In it he's wearing an Olympic shirt with Aboriginal artwork by Paul Fleming, an Indigenous former boxer for the country. 

"To the white Australians in my DMs, in my comments, talking s*** about me here and there: 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. 

"It's sad. The white-washing is sad. Your Black athletes lead you everywhere. Indigenous athletes are some of the best athletes we have and y'all don't use them at all. And Jockey Australia, you know exactly what you were doing. You need me to send you a list? You need me to send you a list of all the Black or POC athletes that are trying to make it to the Olympics right now that you could use? I could do it. I'm not even in the country right now and I could do it." 

Cambage said she saw the apology, but "words don't mean anything to me. Actions mean something to me." 

"Let me see it. Because until then, I'm not buying s***. And that's just how it is."

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