Fear of 'African gangs' blamed for cancellation of Melbourne basketball tournament

The co-founder of the South Sudanese Australian National Basketball Association said cancelling the basketball tournament would have a "counterproductive" impact on the community.

Melbourne’s South Sudanese-Australian community leaders say a major annual basketball tournament has been cancelled because venues were too “afraid” of “African gangs”. 

The South Sudanese Australian National Basketball Association (SSANBA) has cancelled its popular December Summer Slam, blaming ongoing negative media coverage around African youths as the reason it could not secure a venue.

"The African youth issues that were widely covered in the media for the last few years has affected the hosting of our tournaments," the statement read, released on Tuesday, said.

"Stadium(s) are afraid to host our event because of the African gang stories they see in the news."

Earlier this year, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton made headlines by saying people in Melbourne were "scared to go out at restaurants" at night because of African street gang violence.

"They're followed home by these gangs, [there are] home invasions and cars are stolen," Mr Dutton said.

The co-founder of the SSANBA and team manager Manny Berberi told SBS News the tournament has been running seamlessly for almost 15 years and was well loved by both fans, players and officials.

Since the organisation's cancellation, he said he'd been overjoyed to see alternative venues offer to host the event.

Two players hug following an earlier Summer Slam match.
Source: South Sudanese Australian National Basketball Association

"We were amazed by the overwhelming amount of support and people coming forward and saying this shouldn't be allowed to happen. We have a couple of offers now of where to host the tournament. The only thing is we will have to sit down now and see if we can pull off something by December," he told SBS News.

"But it would be a huge heartbreak if the tournament was not to happen.

The tournament brings together 20 teams from across Australia. Each team has an association connected with its local African-Australian community.

A previous Summer Slam event.
Source: South Sudanese Australian National Basketball Association

Mr Berberi said cancelling the tournament would be "counterproductive" because the bi-annual (including the National Classic) events gave young players a goal to train and look forward to.

"The SSNBA and the tournament that we do is a huge part of the solution towards the African youth issues," Mr Berberi told SBS News.

"They really look forward to this tournament and they train hard throughout the year to come and show their skills and talent. It is a way of them coming together to meet their friends, their family members and cousins and also to engage in a positive activity.

"If the tournament was to be taken away it would have a counterproductive effect on the team managers and their ability to engage the kids. Then you would have a lot of drop-offs with kids that want to continue with the sport and our worry is they would be out there, not engaged, not joining their local associations, not being involved within the community."

South Sudanese-Australian lawyer Maker Mayek told SBS News he was angry after hearing Summer Slam was cancelled because the community views the event as more than just a sporting tournament.

South Sudanese-Australian lawyer Maker Mayek said he was outraged over the incident.
Source: SBS News

"It is a tournament that was created, established, nourished by the South Sudanese young people and its their own baby. It's a tournament that brings young people together...this is where they engage with one another. They meet their relatives and they meet their friends," he told SBS News.

"There are people who have even met their partners through this tournament. So there is a real sentimental value to this tournament, it's a not just a sporting event its a cultural event, it's a social event, its importance to the South Sudanese young people cannot be underestimated."

The SSANBA claims "unrealistic barriers" were put in place when it attempted to secure a venue, effectively leaving the competition homeless. 

Basketball Victoria also released a statement claiming venues had placed "external restrictions" on the event.

"These are requirements scarcely demanded for other Victorian basketball tournaments and rarely required throughout the entirety of the sporting community," it read.

It's understood the restrictions included notifying nearby residents of the event, paying for buses to get all participants to and from the venue, restricted day-time hours and a plan to ensure there were no build ups of crowds. 

The Summer Slam and National Classic tournaments have lured in prominent basketball players from across Australia over the years. Australian NBA player Thon Maker travelled from Perth to play, while  NBL players Deng Deng and Majok Majok have taken part.

Published 28 November 2018 at 9:22pm, updated 28 November 2018 at 9:30pm
By Riley Morgan