The mother of a young girl who was the only competitor not to receive a participation medal during a gymnastics event has called for all sporting bodies to introduce anti-racism and unconscious bias training for officials following the controversy.
A video of the incident, which saw a judge hand out medals to a line of young gymnasts but leave the only black competitor without one, went viral online in recent days after being commented on by leading gymnasts Simone Biles and Jordan Chiles.
Gymnastics Ireland (GI) has since publicly apologised to the family of the 11-year-old gymnast over the incident, which occurred at an event in the National Indoor Arena in Dublin in March of last year.
The girl’s mother, who does not wish to be named publicly, has strongly criticised how the sporting body handled the family’s complaint about what happened. The woman said the organisation had initially withheld a lengthy apology the judge had written to the family in the month when the incident happened.
In the letter, seen by The Irish Times, the judge said she wanted to apologise for upsetting the family and the young girl.
“I had in my head thought that I gave your child the medal but obviously was wrong,” she wrote. “I am so truly sorry again as I never meant to cause any upset and felt awful and cried straight away after.
“I hope you can accept my apology but completely understand if you did not want too [sic],” she went on. “I also hate HATE racism against anyone ... I am so truly sorry again.”
The young gymnast’s mother said the family had instead received a much shorter apology note, which she had regarded as an “insult”. It was only during a mediation meeting that the mother became aware of the earlier apology written by the judge.
The mother said a full apology from GI had come at “the last minute”, after the video went viral online in recent days. The organisation had appeared to view the complaint as being “not important” as it related to a young black girl, she said.
“As a child, going through that was very difficult for her, does that not knock her confidence?” she asked.
The family had tried to deal with the matter in a “low key” manner at the time, the woman said.
However, the fact that the video of the medal ceremony was widely shared online recently had made things “very difficult” for the family.
“I’m tired in every part of my body, it’s been a combination of emotions,” the mother said.
She said GI and other sporting bodies should introduce comprehensive antiracism and unconscious bias training for officials.
“In every sport in Ireland and beyond we have so many people from diverse backgrounds,” she told The Irish Times.
Biles, a four-time Olympic gymnastics champion, said the video “broke my heart” when she first watched it. Chiles, an Olympic silver medallist, described the incident as “beyond hurtful on so many levels”.
GI issued a series of statements over the weekend as it attempted to clarify its response to the complaint.
The organisation on Monday said it wished to “unreservedly apologise” for the incident, which “should not have happened”.
It added: “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.”
The sporting body said it “condemns any form of racism whatsoever” and wished to work with the gymnast’s family and Sport Against Racism Ireland “to listen to any suggestions they have as to how our procedures can be improved”.