Gymnastics Ireland has condemned racism and apologized after one of its judges appeared to snub a young Black gymnast at a medal ceremony last year.
Video of the incident resurfaced this weekend and again went viral on social media, racking up millions of views.
In the clip from March 2022, a group of young girls stand single file in their shiny gym suits to receive participation medals inside Dublin’s National Indoor Arena. As a judge from the competition distributes the prizes, she skips the only Black gymnast in line. Several of the girls appear momentarily confused as they pose for photos and wave at their parents, all the while the Black gymnast remains without a medal.
A nearby photographer and other officials did not intervene.
On Monday, Gymnastics Ireland released a statement of apology to the girl and her family. Though the family has remained unnamed publicly, the girl’s mother told several media outlets the behaviour of Gymnastics Ireland — and the untimeliness of its regret — is unacceptable.
Eighteen months after the original incident, and after the family filed a complaint with the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation in Switzerland, Gymnastic Ireland “unreservedly” apologized on Sunday. The apology was shared publicly the following day.
“What happened on the day should not have happened and for that we are deeply sorry,” Gymnastics Ireland wrote. “We are also sorry that what has happened since that date has caused further upset.”
The body promised “nothing like this will happen again.” It said an independent expert will review the organization’s policies and procedures this year.
“We would like to make it absolutely clear that Gymnastics Ireland condemns any form of racism whatsoever,” the apology continued.
“Please know that at all times we have been acting in good faith and with the best of intentions in trying to resolve this very difficult and sensitive matter. We offered an in-person apology after the incident as we believed this was the best approach. Subsequently we felt mediation was the best way forward.”
The young gymnast’s mother told The Guardian that despite arranging mediation between the family and the judge who handed out the medals, a representative from Gymnastics Ireland did not attend the meeting. The family said the decision not to attend the mediation wrongfully painted the incident as a personal dispute between them and the judge.
Gymnastics Ireland told The Guardian the organization “went to great lengths over the extended period to encourage participation in the mediation by both parties.” The body said it only recently “became aware that the family had expected an official representative from GI to be present at the mediation.”
“It’s unbelievable that you treat a little girl this way,” the gymnast’s mother said. “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.”
The judge has denied any racist behaviour and wanted to apologize for the “honest error” in overlooking the Black gymnast.
Gymnastics Ireland said the girl received her medal before she left the field of play, and after the judge realized the allegedly accidental snub. The gymnast’s mother called the new apology from Gymnastics Ireland “useless.”
“They are not addressing the issues of racism and safety,” she said. “I would love to hear them say things like ‘the next Black child who comes into gymnastics will be safe.’ There is nothing like that.”
The gymnast’s mother said it was revealed during the mediation that the judge who handed out the medals wrote a letter of apology to the family in the days after the ceremony. She allegedly sent it to Gymnastics Ireland, who did not share it with the family.
Instead, prior to Sunday’s apology, the family said they had earlier this year received a two-line, unsigned apology from Gymnastics Ireland. The apology was reportedly addressed to “whom it may concern.”
The Irish Times reported the judge did not to renew her membership with Gymnastics Ireland in August 2022 and has not been a member since.
‘There is no room for racism in any sport’
U.S. Olympic gold medallist Simone Biles, who is Black, said she sent the young Black gymnast a video message offering encouragement after the incident.
“When this video was circulating, her parents reached out. It broke my heart to see, so I sent her a little video,” the acclaimed gymnast wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Friday. “There is no room for racism in any sport or at all !!!!”
Biles’ team member Jordan Chiles, who won an Olympic silver medal in 2020, asked for help in finding the young Irish gymnast.
Chiles, who is also Black, said the medal snub was “beyond hurtful on so many levels.”