Sami Whitcomb was appointed captain of an inexperienced Australian Opals basketball team at the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup (Asia Cup), and she didn’t let anyone down.
In July 2018, New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian declared the NSW government’s ambition to bid for ten world cups in the next ten years.
These world cups spanned many sports and it was estimated they would generate a total visitor spend of $1 billion.
Since that announcement, Australia and New South Wales have been part of some massive sporting events including the ICC T20 Women’s World Cup, the Rugby League Nines and the ATP Tennis World Team Cup.
But there are exciting times ahead too, with Australia securing the hosting rights for several other events. One of these events is the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, which will be held in Sydney in 2022.
For newly appointed CEO of the local organising committee, Melissa King, this World Cup presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase women’s basketball to the Australian public.
“It is such a great chance to hold a World Cup in Australia and in Sydney. I am stoked that it’s women’s basketball too,” said King.
“The Opals are a superpower and it gives Australia the chance to see how well the team perform, particularly just one year after the Olympics.”
At the moment, there is real power and momentum behind the women’s sport movement. Some 86,174 people were at the MCG on March 8 this year to watch Australia beat India in the final of the ICC T20 Women’s World Cup. There was joy across the nation when it was announced that Australia would be hosting the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
For King, the FIBA World Cup is another opportunity to build on this momentum and additionally to show young men and women what is possible.
“There is also a role model piece of seeing amazing women do amazing things,” said King.
“My philosophy around this is that we need to bring everybody forward and it’s a chance to think about how we talk to seeing excellence in many different channels in life. It isn’t gender specific, it is about us all coming forward together.
“It’s not just necessarily about what happens on the court. It is also about coaching, it is about the officials and the leadership that team sports bring.”
The Australian Opals are currently ranked number two in the world heading into an Olympic year.
Increasingly, Australians are beginning to take more interest in basketball through the NBA, NBL, WNBL and WNBA.
King wants to capitalise on this growing interest and hints that this could be the World Cup that really gets funky by bringing together music, entertainment and fashion.
But this World Cup has the chance to be about more than just basketball and what we see on the court.
Over the last couple of months, both in Australia and abroad, we have seen our basketballers unite to speak out on issues important to them.
Earlier this year, the Australian Opals launched the Rise Up campaign in support of Black Lives Matter and made a decision not to train until Basketball Australia committed to eliminating racial injustice in basketball.
In the United States, WNBA players chose not to take the court for several days, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake. The WNBA players called it a day of reflection and a call to action following the events in Kenosha. The WNBA players were joined in solidarity with the men competing in the NBA for this day of reflection.
“There is a chance here to bring a number of threads together here, as part of this World Cup,” said King.
“Whether it be about Black Lives Matter, whether it be about our environment or the idea that everyone is able to participate, these are all important issues.
“While there is a high-performance piece in there too, there is also a really important participation piece.
“We want to see young people engaging in basketball and in sport. The alternative has real ramifications for the health of our young people going forward.”
King hopes that her team can deliver an exciting event, but also one that will leave a legacy.
“One of my most important considerations is the legacy of what a women’s world cup can bring to Australia and the region,” said King.
“There is a real ability here to think about how sport and women’s sport can bring positive change to the community and to who we are as people and as a country.
“We really want people to have the spirit of the event and yes, that means Australia supporting the Opals, but also the whole piece is to get more people involved in participating in basketball and being physically active.”