Melbourne Boomers player Tiffany Mitchell says she’s faced “clear racial discrimination” playing basketball in Australia’s league, after she was told to tie her braids up in a bun.
Mitchell, a US international, is playing for the Boomers this season in the WNBL and said she had experienced “little to none” problems in Australia, until the league directed players with braids to tie their hair back.
“I was approached about my hair, and that for the start of the regular season I wouldn’t be able to play if I didn’t tie my hair up or wear it in a bun. An email was also sent out informing coaches and refs to make sure the “rule” was in place for “the players” with braids,” Mitchell wrote in an Instagram post.
“Now in I don’t know how many years this league chooses to enforce this “fiba” [International Basketball Association] rule about the length of someone’s hair. Braids specifically, of course people with “free braids” as they call it apparently it’s clear only the black people in this league has these type of braids.”
Mitchell said she has played all around the world “in every top league at the highest level” and her braids had never been an issue before.
“When I approached Basketball Australia with the discomfort it caused me reading and hearing about this email they stood on the fact that it was a fiba rule they were told to enforce it, but later they reverted because it was actually a rule in fiba that wasn’t even in place anymore.
Mitchell said she felt like there was a target on her back, and she felt disappointed by Basketball Australia.
“I am completely thankful for my club as they stood behind my teammate and myself that had braids and they were very supportive,” Mitchell said.
“Goes to show we have a long way to go for equality all over the world. Unfortunate it had to be for these conversations to happen but happy that Basketball Australia is held accountable and become aware of the ignorance that was displayed in this situation.”
Basketball Australia has issued a statement with an apology, saying it has “reviewed the rule” about braids, and removed it.
“The policy has been deemed discriminatory and inconsistent with Basketball Australia’s Diversity and Inclusion framework by the WNBL Commission,” the BA statement read.
“It is also not enforced in either the WNBL, other leading professional women’s leagues around the world or international competitions such as the Olympics and World Cup.
“To this end, the WNBL Commission has removed the policy, effective immediately.
“Basketball Australia makes an unreserved apology for any anguish and pain that was caused by this rule.”
Last year, Basketball Australia, alongside Australia’s national women’s team, the Opals, launched an anti-racism campaign called RISE UP. The campaign launched after the Opals boycotted training until Basketball Australia committed to stamping out racism within the sport.
Opals start Liz Cambage has previously spoken out about the racism she’s experienced in Australia.