Basketball Australia confirms investigation into Liz Cambage, who said Olympic withdrawal 'had been coming'
Basketball Australia is investigating Liz Cambage, who withdrew from the team for the Tokyo Olympics, for a "break of the integrity and framework of the code of conduct" after an incident during a scrimmage between Australia and Nigeria last week.
The organization formally announced the investigation on Monday, though the Australian Olympic Committee had previously said they were looking into the issue.
Sara Blicavs, who plays for the Southside Flyers in Australia's WNBL, has been called up to replace Cambage.
Basketball Australia to investigate Cambage
ESPN's Olgun Uluc reported on Thursday that Cambage, a 6-foot-8 center with the Las Vegas Aces, was involved in a "physical altercation" and a "charged verbal exchange" during a closed-door scrimmage against Nigeria. The teams were in Las Vegas along with USA Basketball preparing for the Olympics.
The Australian Olympic Committee confirmed that Cambage's status for the Olympic Games was in jeopardy. Basketball Australia had not commented on the reported incident until Monday.
"The circumstances surrounding the incident that occurred during the scrimmage between Nigeria and Australia involving Liz Cambage are currently under investigation for a breach of the integrity framework and code of conduct," the organization said in a statement.
"As Liz has withdrawn from the Olympic Games due to mental health reasons we will not make any comments on the status of the investigation until the matter is concluded."
The investigation will be managed by the Integrity Division of Basketball Australia.
Cambage withdraws from Olympics
Hours after the initial reports surfaced, and 24 hours after Cambage sat out the WNBA All-Star Game so as to not further injure her hip ahead of the tournament, the Opals star announced she was withdrawing from the Olympics.
Cambage, 29, cited her mental health in a "bubble Olympics" in making the decision to not head to Japan. She has been open about mental health struggles before and opted out of the 2020 WNBA season in the bubble in Bradenton, Florida.
At no point in her statement on social media did Cambage reference the reported altercation in the scrimmage. In a video statement on Instagram the following day she said the decision had been days in the making and she confirmed a "physical altercation."
“Yeah, things got heated in the Nigeria game," Cambage said, via Yahoo Australia. "There was a physical altercation and there were words exchanged but I’m hearing things that aren’t true at all, flying around from people in Australia and America which is crazy.
“Everything that happened and everything that was said is on film. I know what happened and I do not appreciate the lies and people constantly trying to tear me down. Hating on me won’t bring you love, at all.
“But hey, I’ve been trapped in this room, with no view, with nothing, for a week. Of course I’m going to lose my mind in here, are you serious?
“I’m seeing reports I went out partying. S***. I wish I did! I know some of the people in Vegas have been having a really good time this week. But I’ve been in here, bro. I’ve been in here. And the only time I left this goddamn bubble was for the All-Star game."
Cambage said she had been "at the breaking point for a month or so now" and had a breakdown in the parking lot at Whole Foods.
“Yesterday was literally one of the hardest decisions of my life. But it had been coming. I’ve been having breakdowns in the carpark at Whole Foods. Non-stop panic attacks. Hyperventilating. At the thought of going into one of the most high-pressure situations, that is already in a bubble. With no fans, no friends. I’ve never played without fans.
“The main reason I sat out the WNBA last season was my mental health. I’m not OK in a bubble. I’m not OK playing in front of no fans. Mentally, I’m an escapist. If I have no escape from a situation, it gives me anxiety and I panic. And there’s definitely no escape, except for leaving, once you get into Tokyo. And I would not want to do that.”
Australia was upset by Serbia in the quarterfinals at the Rio Olympics in 2016, ending a medal streak that extended to 1996. Cambage voiced excitement over the past five years to bring Australia to gold.
She will get back on the court on Aug. 15 when the Aces host the Washington Mystics to open the second half of the WNBA season. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said ahead of the All-Star Game the league expects to have more fans in arenas in the second half.
Australia's Olympic chances without Cambage
Despite Cambage's absence, the Opals downed Team USA, 70-67, last week. It was the first time Team USA lost consecutive exhibition games since 2011 after losing to Team WNBA earlier in the week.
The Seattle Storm's Ezi Magbegor scored a team-high 17 points for Australia with five rebounds and three steals. Fellow WNBA stars Rebecca Allen and Stephanie Talbot scored in double figures to keep Australia a solid favorite for a medal.
The Opals have the second-best odds (+1600 by BetMGM) to win the Olympic gold, but they trail the USA (-1000) considerably.
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