Australian basketball star Liz Cambage has withdrawn from the upcoming Olympics, citing mental health concerns and the fear of being without support from family and friends in the athlete bubble in Tokyo.
Cambage, who is regarded as the Opals’ best player, said she is “a long way” from where she wants to be heading into the Olympic period and had been “really worried” about living in the COVID-19 bubble. Cambage said she has been having panic attacks, and has not been sleeping or eating properly, with the thought of having no support system outside of her team being “honestly terrifying”.
“Anyone that knows me knows one of my biggest dreams is winning an Olympic gold medal with the Opals,” she said in a statement on social media.
“Every athlete competing in the Olympic games should be at their mental and physical peak, and at the moment, I’m a long way from where I want and need to be. It’s no secret that in the past I’ve struggled with my mental health and recently I’ve been really worried about heading into a ‘bubble’ Olympics.
“No family. No friends. No fans. No support system outside of my team. It’s honestly terrifying for me. The past month I have been having panic attacks, not sleeping and not eating.
“Relying on daily medication to control my anxiety is not the place I want to be right now. Especially walking into competition on the world’s biggest sporting stage. I know myself, and I know I can’t be the Liz everyone deserves to see compete for the Opals. Not right now at least. I need to take care of myself mentally and physically.”
Over the last week, there have also been some allegations of incidents involving Cambage at the Opals’ Las Vegas camp.
The Australian Olympic Committee had been told by Basketball Australia that they were investigating “an issue” after reports that Cambage had been involved in an alleged altercation with the Nigerian team in a closed-door scrimmage in Las Vegas. There have also been various claims that Cambage allegedly breached the Covid bubble to go partying in Las Vegas.
On Instagram, Cambage has denied these allegations, saying there have been many lies “floating around in news articles” and said her decision to pull out of Tokyo had been a month in the making.
“News got leaked yesterday that I didn’t even know about. Yeah, things got heated in the Nigeria game, there was a physical altercation and there was words exchanged but I’m hearing things that aren’t true at all,” Cambage said.
“I know what happened. I don’t appreciate the lies and the people constantly trying to tear me down.”
Cambage also said reports of her breaching the Covid bubble are not true.
“I’m seeing reports that I went out partying. S***, I wish I did,” she said. “I’ve been in here, bro, I’ve been in here. And the only time I left this damn ‘bubble’ was for the All Star game.”
Australia’s Chef de Mission, Ian Chesterman said in a statement that he respected Cambage’s decision to withdraw from the Olympics.
“Liz has made a great contribution to the Australian Olympic Team over two Olympic Games campaigns. We respect her decision and wish her the best in returning to full health,” Chesterman said.
“Our focus now moves to working with the Opals so they can achieve the goals they have set for themselves in Tokyo. We know they are totally committed to achieving success in Tokyo and they will still bring a incredibly strong team to this campaign.”
In the past, Cambage has been very open about her mental health struggles, specifically with depression and anxiety. In 2019, she penned an article for The Players Tribune, saying “I wanted to let everyone know that my mental health…it got caught up in the rip last week. And it wasn’t pretty. It was actually pretty ugly”.
She has also been at the forefront of discussions around racism in sport and has publicly pushed for Basketball Australia to do more to support the Black Lives Matter movement. In June 2020, Cambage led the Opals’ boycott of training until the organisation vowed to stamp out racism in the sport.
At the time, Cambage also opened up about experiencing racism in Australia, a country that she said she has never felt comfortable living in. She said she had given up on the country, and was “tired” of dealing with it. Cambage has lived predominantly in the United States for years, where she says she has felt more accepted.
In May this year, she criticised the Australian Olympic Team’s promotional photos of the Olympic uniform, saying they were “whitewashed”.
“If 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,” she wrote on Instagram.
Cambage was named a 2021 WNBA All-Star, and her withdrawal from the Opals is a blow to Australia’s pursuit of an Olympic medal. However, the Australian team did pull off an upset win over the United States on Saturday, managing the pre-Olympic victory without Cambage.
The Australian Olympic Committee is currently exploring the potential for a late replacement for Cambage.