Olympics-"Passionate" Cambage to lead Australia's bid for elusive basketball gold

MELBOURNE, May 26 (Reuters) - Social justice firebrand Liz Cambage will be free to express herself on the court when she leads Australia’s bid for an elusive basketball gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

United States-based Cambage was confirmed in the 12-woman squad on Wednesday, weeks after threatening to boycott the Games over a lack of racial diversity in Australia’s Olympic photo-shoots.

Cambage backtracked on the threat, but her comment on social media riled former Olympians, including tennis gold medallist Todd Woodbridge and embarrassed the Australian Olympic Committee, which did however acknowledge she had a point.

Sandy Brondello, coach of the ‘Opals’, said she had told Cambage, who was born to a Nigerian father, that she supported her right to express her opinion and the Las Vegas Aces centre was quick to commit to Tokyo.

“She’s passionate about a lot of things off the court and we totally support that,” Brondello told reporters in a video call.

“I wanted her to be there. She loves the Opals, these are all her sisters... She’s ready to go and win that gold.”

Cambage generated headlines this week after calling out a coach for a remark about her weight during a WNBA game.

Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller was subsequently fined and suspended for a game by the WNBA. He apologised in a statement to Cambage and the Aces.

“If someone treats her badly in that regard, why shouldn’t she stand up,” said Brondello, who coaches WNBA side Phoenix Mercury.

Australia were knocked out of the quarter-finals at the 2016 Rio Olympics, breaking a streak of medalling at every Games from 1996-2012.

They were runners-up to the United States at the 2018 World Cup and will be among the biggest threats to the powerful Americans, who are bidding for a seventh successive Olympic gold.

“I think we’re capable of that gold medal,” said Brondello.

“I believe that the 12 we have named are very well balanced, very versatile, have great experience.”

The Opals will have a training camp in the United States in July before heading to Tokyo. Brondello said all her squad would be vaccinated before arriving in Japan, which is battling a fourth wave of COVID-19.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; editing by John Stonestreet