The Queensland Firebirds have been accused of tokenism for using player Jemma Mi Mi to market their brand but not giving her court time during Super Netball’s Indigenous round.
Fans were left stunned when Mi Mi, the league’s only Indigenous player in both 2019 and 2020, was not given a single minute on the court during Sunday’s match between the Firebirds and Vixens in Cairns. The round is aimed at celebrating Indigenous excellence in sport and creating cultural awareness ― players wore specially made uniforms that featured First Nations art and the ball was also designed with Indigenous artwork.
Many pointed out the Firebirds used Mi Mi’s Aboriginality to market their brand in the lead up to the game.
“This is so disappointing and tokenism at its finest,” reality stars Jasmine and Jerome Cubillo commented on a Firebirds’ Instagram post of Mi Mi promoting the game.
“A big corporate who uses our culture, art, stories and capitalises on Jemma’s Aboriginality, but benches the one Indigenous player during Indigenous round for the whole game. Speechless.”
The snub drew a lot of criticism online with fans questioning why Mi Mi had to do most of the “heavy lifting” when it came to media interviews prior to the game but did not get to play.
Firebirds coach Roselee Jencke issued a late-night statement on Monday and stood by her decision to bench Mi Mi but said she “misread community expectations” around including the Indigenous team member during the Indigenous round.
“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,” Jencke said in the statement.
“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.”
Criticism of the “weak” and “ignorant” apology proved Super Netball still has a way to go with Indigenous awareness.
Marcia Ella-Duncan, the first Aboriginal netballer to represent Australia, told the ABC it was a missed opportunity to do better.
“I’m disappointed for Jemma. I’m disappointed for the game. We missed an opportunity to take advantage of a platform and to really do something substantial,” she said.
Mi Mi told the ABC last week that she did feel the pressure of being the single Indigenous player in the league.
“When I first found out I was the only Indigenous athlete in the Suncorp Super Netball competition, I was pretty surprised because I know there is so much Indigenous talent out there,” she told the ABC.
“I’ve learnt now to really own that responsibility and take on that pressure … for those young Indigenous girls coming through school.
“I think sport is that escape that Indigenous people can find because that’s where we maybe we feel more included, because it’s all about sport. It doesn’t matter who you are.”