In Australia, a Sudanese basketball league finds itself sidelined by racist fears

The Savannah Pride team, made up of South Sudanese Australians, practicing in Blacktown, Australia, in 2017 | David Maurice Smith for The New York Times

By Livia Albeck-Ripka

MELBOURNE, Australia (Nov. 28) — An Australian basketball association that runs tournaments for teenagers from the country’s South Sudanese community said that xenophobic attitudes had forced it to cancel its annual December tournament.

The South Sudanese Australian National Basketball Association has been a pipeline for athletes who go on to play in colleges in the United States and even the N.B.A. It said in a statement posted to Facebookon Tuesday that the exaggerated news media coverage of gang violence meant that it had struggled to find stadiums willing to host the league this year.

“Stadium managers are afraid to host our event because of the African gang stories they see in the news,” the statement read.

In recent years, isolated incidents of violence among South Sudanese youth in Melbourne have received wide attention in the news media, which some critics say has fueled panic and racist attitudes. Some politicians have also stoked fears of so-called African gangs. And while there have been criminal incidents involving young people with South Sudanese backgrounds, the majority of crimes in the state of Victoria are committed by people born in Australia, government figures show.

But for the basketball association — and the South Sudanese community — the damage has been done. The association said that extensive negative coverage of Sudanese youth had made it difficult to find a stadium willing to host its summer tournament. And those who have considered hosting have imposed “unrealistic barriers” — including restrictions on the hours the event could run and limits on crowd sizes — that made the event unfeasible, the group’s statement said.

Such requirements are rarely imposed on other sporting events, said Karen Pearce, a manager of strategy and inclusion with Basketball Victoria, the state’s leading basketball organization.

Ms. Pearce said while it was possible the restrictions were not rooted in racist attitudes, that could “unfortunately” be the case.

“I would hate to think that it is,” she added, “because what we’re running is a basketball tournament for a bunch of people who love their basketball.”

The South Sudanese Australian National Basketball Association holds tournaments twice a year — the National Classic in July and the Summer Slam in December — which, according to the group, usually involve up to 500 players and 1,000 spectators.

For the last few years, the tournaments have been held at Eagle Stadium in Wyndham, in the outer southwestern suburbs of Melbourne. But this year, the stadium decided not to host the event.

“They said that we couldn’t do the tournament this year in their facility because they had concerns,” said Manny Berberi, the basketball association’s manager. Mr. Berberi said the venue had initially agreed to host the tournament, but that decision was later blocked by the local council.

In a statement, the Wyndham council, which oversees the venue, said it decided not to host the tournament because of “capacity issues.”

Advocates for the Sudanese community said the failure to find a host for the games was a blow.

“There’s not a lot of events that cater for the South Sudanese community in Australia,” said Nyadol Nyuon, a Sudanese-born lawyer and community advocate. “It’s denying a whole community an opportunity to celebrate,” she said.

Mr. Berberi said that he did not “want to be too quick to play the race card because at the moment, we’re still assessing the situation.” But, he added, it was “probably an issue of fear.”

Both he and Ms. Pearce said they hoped to find a host so the tournament could resume next year.

Mr. Berberi said that while there might be issues among some South Sudanese youth, basketball had the potential to be “a huge part of the solution.”

He added, “The kids just want to play basketball at the end of the day.”

New York Times, November 28, 2018

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