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Family in Ireland gymnast racism row say apology ‘useless’

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    1 day ago

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The mother of a black girl who was not given a medal at an Irish gymnastics event ceremony says the apology she has received is “useless”.

A video emerged recently showing the alleged racist treatment of a young black gymnast being ignored by an official who was handing out medals at an event in Dublin last year.

The mother said watching the incident unfold at the time was “horrendous”.

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Gymnastics Ireland apologised on Monday “for the upset that has been caused”.

In the statement, the governing body said it was “deeply sorry”, that it knew it needed to do more to ensure “nothing like this will happen again” and it condemned “any form of racism”.

But the mother of the girl said the sports body only publicly apologised after 18 months “because the world wanted them to”.

“[The apology is] almost useless,” she said. “There was no empathy shown, I feel like it’s not true.

“It’s been 18 months and it seems like they were pressured to give me an apology.

“I cried for so long and then millions of people cried with me before I could get this.”

The incident occurred at a GymStart event in the Irish capital in March 2022, when children were awarded participation medals but a young black girl did not receive one on the podium.

The judge at the event later apologised to the family for her “mistake” and said that she would “never ever ever be racist”.

However, the girl’s family believe their daughter was the subject of racism. They have asked for the family not to be named, fearing it would prompt racist abuse.

Her mother said watching the incident play out was “unbelievable”.

“I didn’t believe in this day and time that this could happen,” she said.

“It is painful to actually state the obvious – my daughter was the only black child in that competition, she stood out well, there was no excuse for what happened. She felt very upset about what happened.

“It was almost as if though they blamed her for being black. It’s something very uncomfortable for a 10-year-old to go through.”

She said she emailed the governing body the following day hoping to get an apology for her daughter.

“All I wanted was an empathetic reply from them,” the girl’s mother said. “I wanted a show of support for [my daughter]. And really what we wanted was a form of apology to show her. To say this is from them, to make her feel supported.”

A year after the incident, the family received a short apology letter from the judge at the event, addressed “To whom it concerns”.

But the BBC has found out the judge had written another email apology shortly after the incident and sent it to Gymnastics Ireland to pass on to the family.

In it she apologised to the family for upsetting “you and your lovely child”, saying she was very nervous, that it was a genuine mistake. “When I realised my mistake,” she said,”I ran back to get your lovely child a participation medal and apologise”.

The family said that email was never forwarded to them. They saw it last month when they met with the judge at a mediation session. They expected Gymnastics Ireland would be at the session but it did not send a representative.

The family say it was clear to them after the mediation that the medal refusal was informed by racial bias. We approached the judge for comment but did not receive a reply.

But the family’s main issue is with the reaction by the sport’s governing bodies.

“They tried to cover up like it didn’t happen,” the girl’s father said. “They probably thought that with time they’ll forget about it. It was painful. You have to beg for an apology.”

The apology from Gymnastics Ireland, which came last week, after the video had gone viral, was “so useless”, said the girl’s mother.

“I haven’t shown her, to be honest, because it’s been well over a year,” she said.

She told the BBC she wanted to see a change in policy from Ireland’s Department of Sport, adding “we wouldn’t want to see this happen to any other black child or whatever race”.

The girl who was not given the medal

Gymnastics Ireland told the BBC it fully accepts that it has taken “far too long to make an apology to the family” and that “the child and her parents have been let down”.

It acknowledged its response lacked empathy and said this was the first complaint of racism it had received since its foundation and there had been “many learnings” from it.

“The delays arose for a variety of reasons including human error, threats of legal action, intervention by third parties and our own understanding that this was a complaint from the parents against the official.”

After the incident the family’s case was taken up by the campaign group, Sport Against Racism Ireland, which informed the American civil rights activist Professor Harry Edwards.

He in turn contacted gymnast world champion Simone Biles, who sent the family a video of support.

“I wanted to let you know that I saw how you were treated at your GymStart event recently. I was completely shocked. I want you to know that you deserve a medal just like the other girls,” Ms Biles said.

Receiving that video was a special moment, the girl told the BBC: “I was just jumping around all over the place because she’s the best gymnast ever and I was really happy to hear that she’s on my side.”

And it has inspired her to stay in the sport.

“Yeah, I’m still continuing,” she said. “I’m going to keep striving hard.”

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