Black gymnast denied medal in Ireland receives apology and support

A video of a medal ceremony at a gymnastics competition in Ireland has gone viral for showing a young black gymnast being snubbed by an official who handed out medals to all the other white participants. The incident, which took place in March 2022, has sparked outrage and condemnation from the gymnastics community and beyond, including Olympic champions Simone Biles and Jordan Chiles.

The video shows the official walking along a line of young gymnasts and giving them each a participation medal, but skipping over the only black girl in the group. The girl can be seen waiting eagerly for her medal, but is left empty-handed as the official walks away with the last medal in her hand. The girl’s coach, a photographer, and other officials witnessed the scene but did not intervene.

Black gymnast denied medal in Ireland receives apology and support
Black gymnast denied medal in Ireland receives apology and support

The girl’s mother, who asked not to be named to protect her daughter’s privacy, said the family was “very upset” by how their daughter was treated and believed she was ignored because of her race. She said the girl did eventually receive a medal, but only after she complained to the organizers.

Gymnastics Ireland suppresses personal apology from the official and fails to address systemic racism in the sport

The girl’s mother said she filed a complaint with Gymnastics Ireland (GI), the national governing body of the sport, but was disappointed by their response. She said GI did not apologize to the family, did not investigate the incident, did not implement any anti-racism policies, and did not offer any protection or support for athletes of color.

She also said GI suppressed a personal apology letter from the official who snubbed her daughter, and refused to attend mediation sessions with the family. She said GI treated the incident as a “member-to-member” dispute, rather than a case of institutional racism.

“It’s unbelievable that you treat a little girl this way,” she told The Guardian. “It’s a systemic problem, because when you [GI] don’t speak out, the message is that you are happy for it to go on.”

GI said in a statement that they “expressed concern” to the family and “issued” a written apology from the official, who claimed it was an “honest error” and not intentional. GI said they attempted to address the matter through their discipline and complaints policy, but the family declined to engage in the process and sought legal advice.

GI also said they were contacted by the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF), an independent body that oversees ethical issues in the sport, regarding the complaint. GI said they cooperated with the GEF and agreed to resume their internal process in February 2023.

Simone Biles and other gymnasts show solidarity with the girl and call out racism in gymnastics

The video of the medal snub resurfaced online this month and drew attention from some of the most prominent figures in gymnastics, including Simone Biles, who is widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time. Biles, who is also black, contacted the family and sent the girl a private video message of support last year.

This month, Biles publicly shared her outrage over the video on X (formerly Twitter) and said there was no room for racism in any sport. “This broke my heart to see … There is no room for racism in any sport or at all,” she wrote.

Her teammate Jordan Chiles, who won silver at the Tokyo Olympics this year, also expressed her solidarity with the girl and criticized her treatment. “This is beyond hurtful on so many levels,” she wrote on X.

Other gymnasts, coaches, fans, and celebrities also joined in condemning the incident and calling for action from GI. Some also shared their own experiences of racism and discrimination in gymnastics.

The girl’s mother said she was grateful for the support from Biles and others, but hoped that GI would take responsibility and make changes to prevent such incidents from happening again. She said her daughter still loved gymnastics and wanted to continue pursuing her passion.

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