Gymnastics Ireland Issue Statement Following Medal Ceremony Controversy

Gymnastics Ireland Issue Statement Following Medal Ceremony Controversy
Jessica Gardiner
Jessica Gardiner
*Tuesday, 26 September - In a significant development in the ongoing gymnastics incident, Ireland's sports ministry has publicly admitted that a young gymnast at the center of a racism row was "badly let down." This revelation comes as the head of the country's sporting authority, Sports Ireland, faced criticism for downplaying the racism incident.
Ken McCue, co-founder of Sports Against Racism Ireland (Sari) and a key figure in assisting the affected family, recounted his conversation with Una May, the CEO of Sports Ireland. "She said it wasn't a racist incident at all, the medals just got tangled," McCue revealed. Perry Ogden, the CEO of Sari, corroborated McCue's account of May's comments.

May's response, or rather lack thereof, to the incident is now being scrutinized in light of the ongoing controversy surrounding the incident. When questioned about May's current stance, Sports Ireland did not directly respond. However, the organization emphasized that it had contacted Gymnastics Ireland after receiving a report of the incident and had remained in contact throughout the investigation. Sports Ireland stated, "Sport Ireland condemns any form of racism whatsoever."


The girl's family, concerned not only about the incident itself but also about systemic racism and the safety of young athletes, reached out to the ministry for sport, Sports Ireland, the Olympic Federation, and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. Their initial emails sought answers about GI's anti-racism policy and expressed worry about the next black family joining gymnastics. Despite the video of the incident going viral internationally, none of these organizations made any public comment on the girl's treatment at the time of the incident. It would take another year and the viral spread of the video for Gymnastics Ireland to issue an apology to the family.

The lack of immediate response raised concerns about how such a powerful video could be met with silence, with Perry Ogden stating, "We were extremely surprised that nobody would engage with us. And so, we could only make the assumption that they were hoping it would just go away." Ogden highlighted that the official response in Ireland, which primarily focused on the behavior of the individual handing out medals, failed to address systemic issues. He pointed out that adults, including a photographer and coach who were present at the ceremony, did not intervene, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive rethink of anti-racism policies in Irish sports.

Ogden's call to action included a plea for every sports body to establish diversity and inclusion policies, along with training programs for coaches, members, and parents. “This should be a wake-up call... Every sports body should have a diversity and inclusion policy. And they should have people out there, training coaches, training their members, talking to parents, and have more people from ethnic minority backgrounds engaged in that training.”

*This is an ongoing story and is regularly updated

*Monday, 25 September - Gymnastics Ireland has released an apology statement addressed to the young gymnast and her family, who were involved in a medal ceremony controversy that sparked international outrage.

Gymnastics Ireland (GI) has been facing severe backlash for suppressing a personal apology to the family regarding the incident at a competition in March 2022, where a judge ignored the only black girl among young gymnasts during a medal ceremony, while officials and the audience looked on without intervening.

The gymnast's family claims that despite the video evidence of the incident, GI treated it as a purely personal dispute, refusing mediation, and avoiding any public commitment to investigate the incident, implement anti-racism policies, or improve protection for athletes of color. GI also did not apologize to the family for 18 months.

The family of the young gymnast expressed their frustration with GI's response: "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," said the gymnast's mother told The Guardian.

Simone Biles, the renowned American gymnast, has also reached out to the family soon after the incident, offering her support. Recently, Biles publicly condemned the treatment of the young gymnast, stating, "There is no room for racism in any sport or at all."

In response to international outrage, GI issued a statement expressing concern and "issued" a written apology from the judge. However, the family considered this apology insufficient, as it was widely misreported as an institutional apology from GI.

GI claimed that they initially handled the incident as a "member-to-member complaint" and only recently became aware that the family wanted a public apology. On Sunday, they sent a letter of apology to the family but received criticism for its timing and content.

The family maintains that GI's response has focused more on protecting the institution's reputation than addressing the concerns of athletes, particularly athletes of color. They are disappointed that the letter of apology did not address core issues related to racism and athlete safety.

Amidst mounting pressure, GI released a Statement of Apology on September 25th, expressing deep regret for the upset caused by the incident and committing to implementing recommendations to prevent such incidents in the future.

"On behalf of the Board and staff of Gymnastics Ireland we would like to unreservedly apologise to the gymnast and her family for the upset that has been caused by the incident at the GymStart event in March 2022.

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

"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.

We know now we need to do more. We are committed to ensuring nothing like this will happen again. We appointed an independent expert to review our policies and procedures earlier this year and a series of recommendations have resulted which we are fully committed to implementing so that this does not ever happen again.

We would also like to engage with the gymnast's family and Sport Against Racism Ireland (SARI) to listen to any suggestions they have as to how our procedures can be improved in this regard.

We are happy to see that the gymnast continues to participate in Gymnastics Ireland events and we look forward to welcoming her back to our future events also.
Finally, we would like to make it absolutely clear that Gymnastics Ireland condemns any form of racism whatsoever."

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