When the Queensland Firebirds left the competition's only Indigenous player on the bench for an important round that she'd helped promote, it sparked uproar in the Australian sporting landscape.
Jemma Mi Mi's Indigenous Round snub in Cairns was condemned by netball fans, given her significance to the initiative and the fact she'd featured heavily in promotions before a round meant to celebrate and encourage Indigenous participation in the sport.
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Mi Mi had until recently been a starting player in the side, but was left on the bench for the entirety of the clash against the Melbourne Vixens, with Queensland citing strategic reasons for her failure to feature.
Following the fierce backlash that her snub has caused, the Firebirds have now admitted they "misread community expectations" by not playing the 24-year-old.
"The decision not to put Jemma on the court was the right one from a game-strategy perspective, however we misread community expectations and the significance of Jemma's court time in the game in this round," Firebirds coach Roselee Jencke said in a statement.
"Jemma has and continues to develop our cultural awareness and has shared with her teammates her own cultural journey as a proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman.
"We are very proud that Jemma is a Firebird."
However, that statement has not gone down well in the Australian sporting community, with social media users blasting the Queensland club for their "epic fail".
I’m sorry but how do you misread the expectations of indigenous round when she was promoting it all week? https://t.co/SsCQTZ0r4a— Ashlee (@_itsashleeee_) September 21, 2020
Absolutely disgusting. So Jemma really was used as a poster girl to develop your cultural awareness and then left out of the game.— Janis Koolmatrie (@Jankoolmatrie) September 21, 2020
If you truly ‘misread’ the situation so badly that you didn’t realise that fans around the country wanted to celebrate Jemma on court, give you your coaching card back. This game was a dead rubber & was a moment Jemma should have been able to look back on & enjoy. Epic fail.— CowboyKate (@KateKatecornish) September 21, 2020
Cultural awareness is a two-way street. You can't just "take, take, take" and then be surprised when you "misread" the social context. I suggest you undertake your own cultural awareness training and not rely on a player to be the tick box for you.— Dessi (@3BDessi) September 21, 2020
Simply not good enough. And how sad that netball has gone the way of those types of bland, soulless justifications aka men’s sport in Australia.— S Gardner-Drummond (@sgardnerdrummon) September 21, 2020
Pretty ignorant, weak statement. Firebirds management should be ashamed of yourselves. If she wasn’t in the game plan she should’ve at least been acting captain to give exchange with the opposition.— TysonMowarin (@TMowarin) September 21, 2020
Used as the token to lift your profile, but can’t play the game? Thanks for clarifying why your sport has only one Indigenous player in your league! Try educating yourselves in regards to cultural awareness it’s not your player’s responsibility to do this #gamin— Crompy (@kellyletitia1) September 21, 2020
One of the greatest ironies amongst all this is that in 2020, it’s never been easier to get players on and off the court. You don’t stop the game, you don’t lose momentum, none of it ! A lot of opportunities in 60 mins for court time !!!— Tim Scott (@Ralphyboy6Tim) September 21, 2020
The Firebirds coach said player performance and the team's determination to bank another win after finishing last in 2019 was behind her decision, which resulted in an upset victory over the minor premiers.
Jencke said team selection came from wanting to deliver for fans in the first Super Netball game to be played in the Far North Queensland city.
"This weekend's Indigenous round in Cairns was an opportunity to connect with fans that don't usually have the chance to see us live," she said.
"As a team, our players want to do their best for members and fans.
"Our team selection for Sunday's game was part of our strategy for the season and was made collectively by the coaches and the leadership group based on performance."
Netball fans fume over Jemma Mi Mi ‘snub’
With the match winding down and the Firebirds assured of victory, it looked as though Mi Mi would actually get on at wing attack for Lara Dunkley.
However, without a stoppage to allow a substitution, Mi Mi was left awkwardly left pacing the sideline and her introduction never eventuated.
Beryl Friday, another Indigenous netballer who plays in England, said she was "deeply disappointed Jemma didn’t play".
Sports broadcaster Brad Cooke also expressed his anger, calling on the Firebirds to "do better," while many others described the snub as "disgraceful".
“I hope Roselee Jencke truly regrets her decision to not play Jemma Mi Mi, the only Indigenous Super Netball player in the league, during Indigenous round,” Cooke tweeted.
I hope Roselee Jencke truly regrets her decision to not play Jemma Mi Mi, the only Indigenous super netball player in the league, during Indigenous round. I’m filthy. Do better @FirebirdsQld and @NetballAust you absolutely blew it.— Brad Cooke (@CookeBrad) September 20, 2020
Disgraceful stuff by @FirebirdsQld not playing Jemma Mi Mi today whom is the only indigenous player in Suncorp Super netball for indigenous round. Not even one minute even after all her promo work.— John Vizzone (@JVizzone) September 20, 2020
I am actually spitting mad that Jemma Mi Mi didn’t get on court today. All that talk about the importance of this round, all the media work she’ll have done this week and then zero court time. Utter disgrace and I’m fuming for her. #SSNIndigenousRound #SSNVixensFirebirds— Ally (@allyallyfay) September 20, 2020