Australia’s race discrimination commissioner has called on Basketball Australia to take action stronger against racism after one of its star players became embroiled in controversy.
Opals player Alice Kunek posted a photo of herself on Instagram with her face painted black for an end-of-season dress-up party.
The image outraged former Opals team-mate Liz Cambage, who tweeted that she was “shocked” and “disturbed” and “people wonder why I have issues with some Basketball Australia team-mates”.
Kunek later removed her post and apologised, but Australia’s race discrimination commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane said Kunek should have known better.
“It’s always disappointing to see an episode of blackface … people should know that blackface is bent up in a history of racial mockery and humiliation, they should know that it’s unacceptable in our society today,” he said.
The Boomers said Kunek was merely trying to dress up as rapper Kanye West and they were satisfied no malice was meant by her actions.
“She was dressed as her favourite singer and did not think of any offence that may be taken by her appearance,” Melbourne Boomers general manager Justin Nelson said.
“She is extremely apologetic and remorseful that her actions have been upsetting to some people and she quickly apologised publicly.
“We are also aware of the hurt this has caused Elizabeth Cambage, a valuable past player with the Boomers.
“Both Alice and the club are apologetic and all steps are being made to advise Elizabeth that this was an error in judgement. ”
The club also said it would review its education of its players on sensitive social issues.
Dr Soutphommasane thinks Basketball Australia should consider signing up again.
“It’s vitally important that we have strong and firm leadership on this issue and that we don’t make excuses or justifications for unacceptable conduct,” he said.
“I’m a strong believer in education, in cases like this it’s important that organisations council those who have perpetrated some hurts and that we seek as much common understanding as possible.”
Basketball Australia said it had sought advice from the Melbourne Boomers over the incident.
“Having received that advice today, we are satisfied that the club has taken this matter seriously and moved swiftly to address this with their player,” Basketball Australia chief executive officer Anthony Moore said.
“Whilst poor judgement was exercised by Ms Kunek, we note and accept her sincere remorse.”
Cambage is an ambassador for Racism It Stops With Me campaign, run by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Dr Soutphommasane commended her for speaking out on the issue.
“It’s always a challenge to confront racism and prejudice and we have seen that in this case in light of the online criticism that Liz Cambage has received,” he said.
“But she has set a powerful example, she’s been part of Racism It Stops With Me campaign, since 2012.
“We’ve had more than 400 organisations across the country join as supporters in pledging a stand against racism.”