Australian basketball star Liz Cambage pulls out of Olympics citing mental health and physical concerns

Australian basketball star Liz Cambage has withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympics, citing concern for her mental health if she were to go into a bubble at the Games with no support other than from her team.

Cambage, the Opals’ best player, said on Friday that she is “a long way from from her mental and physical peak” with just a week to go before the start of the Games at which Australia’s women are a medal prospect.

“Anyone that knows me knows one of my biggest dreams is winning an Olympic gold medal with the Opals,” she said. “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.”

Cambage, a four-time WNBA All-Star who plays for the Las Vegas Aces, said she did not feel she could give the best account of herself and that she needed to take care of her mental and physical health first and foremost.

“It breaks my heart to announce I’m withdrawing from the Olympics, but I think it’s best for the Opals and myself,” she said. “I wish them nothing but the best of luck in Tokyo and I hope they go forth and win a gold medal. Love and light.”

Earlier on Friday, Australia’s chef de mission, Ian Chesterman, said the Australian Olympic Committee had been informed by Basketball Australia that they were “investigating an issue”, following reports of an alleged altercation involving Cambage during a pre-Games practice match against Nigeria behind closed doors in Las Vegas.

Chesterman said he understood Cambage’s decision, which means she will miss out on appearing at a third Games.

“Liz has made a great contribution to the Australian Olympic team over two Olympic Games campaigns,” he said. “We respect her decision and wish her the best in returning to full health.”

The AOC will now explore the possibility of calling up a late replacement.

“Our focus now moves to working with the Opals so they can achieve the goals they have set for themselves in Tokyo,” Chesterman said. “We know they are totally committed to achieving success in Tokyo and they will still bring an incredibly strong team to this campaign.”

Cambage, 29, is regarded as key to Australia’s hopes of winning a first Olympic basketball medal since the 2012 Games in London. Five years ago in Rio, the Opals went no further than the quarter-final stage, despite having won medals in each of the five previous Games.

In May this year, Cambage backed down on a threat to boycott the Tokyo Games over a lack of diversity in a photoshoot for an official AOC partner. She had also been critical of a photo of the AOC’s team uniform launch, in which Maurice Longbottom was the only Indigenous athlete featured.