Gymnastics Ireland has issued a statement of apology to a gymnast, the only black competitor in a line of young gymnasts who was apparently ignored by a judge when handing out participation medals. A video of the incident has since gone viral.
The statement said the board and staff of Gymnastics Ireland “unreservedly apologise” to the gymnast and her family for the upset caused by the incident at a GymStart event in the National Indoor Arena 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,” the statement said.
“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,” it further reads.
“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.”
They also said that they would like to engage with the gymnast’s family and Sports Against Racism Ireland (SARI) to “listen to any suggestions they have as to how our procedures can be improved in this regard.”
Gymnastics Ireland added that they are happy to see the gymnast continue to participate in Gymnastics Ireland events and they look forward to welcoming her back to future events.
“Finally, we would like to make it absolutely clear that Gymnastics Ireland condemns any form of racism whatsoever,” they said.
Four-time Olympic gymnastics champion Simone Biles said the video “broke my heart”. She said she sent the girl a video message to offer encouragement, and added: “There is no room for racism in any sport or at all.”
Her United States team-mate Jordan Chiles, an Olympic silver medallist, described the incident as “beyond hurtful on so many levels”.
In a statement to The Irish Times on Saturday, Gymnastics Ireland said it “engaged immediately” with the girl’s parents following receipt of the complaint, “in addition to immediately engaging with the official in question”.
“Initially we attempted to address the matter through the informal process of our discipline and complaints policy,” it said.
“However, following a series of communications with the parents they informed Gymnastics Ireland that they would not be engaging in the process and were seeking legal advice.”
Gymnastics Ireland was contacted by the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) in the summer of 2022 to inform it that it had been contacted regarding the complaint.
“We remained engaged with the GEF through the autumn and winter months during which time our internal process was suspended,” said Gymnastics Ireland. “In February, we agreed to resume internally and proceed to the next stage of our process.”
Gymnastics Ireland said this involved inviting the girl’s parents and the official in question to mediation, independently facilitated by Sport Dispute Solutions Ireland (SDSI), which was agreed to by both parties in early March.
Gymnastics Ireland said the official was not sanctioned as “a mediated resolution” had been agreed between both parties.
“This was a member to member complaint therefore we facilitated the process in line with our policies,” it said.
“As we were not a party in the mediation we are not privy to the meditation agreement as meditation is a private and confidential process between the parties only.”
In an earlier statement, Gymnastics Ireland said the official in question “accepted fully that what had happened had not been acceptable but stressed that it had not been intentional”.
“The official concerned said that upon realising the mistake they immediately rectified it and ensured that the competitor concerned was presented with her medal before she left the field of play.
“The official also expressed deep regret for what they described as an honest error and requested the opportunity to apologise in person to the competitor and her family. This request was initially declined.
“A written apology provided by the identified individual has since been issued to the competitor and her family.”
Gymnastics Ireland has more 36,000 members and is predominantly made up of young children and teenagers. It describes itself as having “a very diverse community of members covering all races, ages, genders, sexualities and socio-economic groups”.