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Irish gymnastics group apologizes after a Black girl was skipped at a medal ceremony

The end section of a balance beam is pictured. The 2022 incident was widely viewed on social media and condemned by many, including U.S. gymnast Simone Biles.
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The end section of a balance beam is pictured. The 2022 incident was widely viewed on social media and condemned by many, including U.S. gymnast Simone Biles.

Gymnastics authorities in Ireland are responding to a video circulating on social media that shows an award ceremony last year in which a young Black gymnast is skipped over as medals are handed out.

The video shows roughly a dozen young girls lined up to receive medals at a gymnastics event in Dublin in March 2022. As an official goes down the line awarding medals, she passes by the only Black child.

Though it was recorded over a year ago, the video now spreading online is drawing renewed attention to the incident and prompting condemnations from many viewers, including U.S. gymnastics star Simone Biles.

"[W]hen this video was circulating, her parents reached out. It broke my heart to see, so I sent her a little video," Biles said in a post on X (formerly Twitter). "[T]here is no room for racism in any sport or at all !!!!"

On Friday, Gymnastics Ireland said in a statement that the parents of one of its members had lodged a complaint about "racist behaviour by one of our officials" at the GymSTART event in March 2022.

The organization said the official made a mistake and ensured the child received a medal before leaving the field of play.

The official "expressed deep regret for what they described as an honest error" and requested an opportunity to apologize in person to the gymnast and her family but was denied, according to Gymnastics Ireland, and sent a written apology instead.

The group added that it had entered into mediation with the family and reached a resolution in August.

But a day later, the girl's mother said in an interview with the Irish Independent that Gymnastics Ireland had failed to publicly apologize for the incident and that she wants the organization to help get the video removed from social media.

"We are often the only black family at gymnastics events and this has been very hurtful for us," the girl's mother told the outlet. "Now eight million people have seen the video. From Pakistan to Ethiopia they can see this was wrong but Gymnastics Ireland still can't accept it and say sorry."

On Monday, Gymnastics Ireland issued another statement in which it "unreservedly" apologized for the incident, condemning "any form of racism whatsoever" and vowing to ensure that nothing similar ever happens again.

"What happened on the day should not have happened and for that we are deeply sorry," the group said. "We are also sorry that what has happened since that date has caused further upset."

Despite the group's apology, the incident riling Irish sports does not appear to be going away.

Sport Ireland, the federal agency that works with sports' governing bodies, said in a statement that Gymnastics Ireland's handling of the incident "has fallen short" because it hasn't provided the family with a "satisfactory outcome."

"Sport Ireland is disappointed with this outcome and has asked Gymnastics Ireland to provide a full review of how the complaint was handled, to ensure we learn from this process," the agency added.

"Sport must be welcoming and inclusive, offering appropriate opportunities for participation and improvement to all regardless of ethnicity, socio-economic background, gender, disability, or sexual orientation."

A spokesperson for Ireland's Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media said in a statement that it takes a "zero-tolerance approach to racism in sport" and it was "unfortunate" the process of resolving this incident has taken so long.

"The child was badly let down, and it is right and proper that Gymnastics Ireland have issued an apology," the statement said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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