Organisers of a long-running annual South Sudanese basketball tournament in Melbourne have been forced to cancel this year’s events due to all the “fear” drummed up about “African gangs” by the media. The South Sudanese Australian National Basketball Association (SSANBA) released a statement on Facebook this week announcing that they would be unable to put on their Summer Slam tournament in December 2018 because of stadium managers who were allegedly too afraid to host the event. It was for this same reason that SSANBA had to cancel the National Classic in July, they said.
“The African youth issues that were widely covered in the media for the last few years has affected the hosting of our tournaments,” the post reads. “We have struggled to get stadiums… When we got a stadium, unrealistic barriers were put in the way so that the event was not held. Stadium managers are afraid to host our event because of the African gang stories they see in the news.”
These “unrealistic barriers” included a number of stringent demands imposed by local councils. According to a statement from Basketball Victoria, tournament organisers were expected to pay for bus-in, bus-out transport for all players; to restrict play to daytime hours; to hold a half-day grand final; to limit crowd numbers; and to notify neighbours and all surrounding residents about the event.
"These are requirements scarcely demanded for other Victorian basketball tournaments and rarely required throughout the entirety of the sporting community," a spokesperson for Basketball Victoria noted. “Our staff worked with various councils and authorities to ensure SSANBA, its players, coaches, and the entirety of the basketball community would have an opportunity to participate in the tournament. This unfortunately was unable to come to fruition due to the severity of external restrictions placed on this event.”
In SSANBA’s view, these severe external restrictions amount to "The actions of a few teenagers in the community... being unfairly used to stereotype the vast majority that are doing the right thing."
Last year, a group of teenage girls linked to the Summer Slam event made the news after renting out a Werribee Airbnb and throwing a party. The property was reportedly trashed by partygoers and police were pelted with rocks. It’s these kinds of stories—stories about “the actions of a few teenagers”—that have likely fed the hysteria surrounding the tournament.
Not only is this kind of broad stroke stereotyping unfair and unwarranted, however, SSANBA suggests that cracking down on events like the Summer Slam and National Classic is also counterproductive as far as addressing an African youth crisis goes.
“The two tournaments are a huge part of the solution towards youth problems,” they state in their Facebook post. “It's counterproductive not to have them. Our team managers do a great job to engage the kids on a voluntary basis throughout the year. The tournaments are vital to these young people because they give them something to look forward to.”
Since posting their original statement on Tuesday, SSANBA has been flooded with support from the wider community and received several offers of stadiums in which they could host 2018’s Summer Slam.
“We thank them for their support. We will have meetings with them to discuss the hosting of the tournament,” they announced in a more recent Facebook post. “Once again we thank everyone who has contributed or supported us in one way or the other. It means a lot to the kids who work so hard throughout the year to participate in the tournaments… We are hoping that we can continue to work together to put on great basketball tournaments.”
The Summer Slam and National Classic tournaments have been going for 15 years.