Ireland

No room for racism in sport, says Varadkar amid Gymnastics Ireland row

(Alamy/PA)
(Alamy/PA)

Ireland’s premier has said there is no room for racism in sport amid a controversy around a young black gymnast not receiving a medal at a presentation ceremony.

A clip of the incident at an Irish gymnastics event in Dublin has gone viral in the last week.

The young gymnast is seen lining up with other children awaiting the presentation of medals for participating in the Gymstart event.

However, the official moving along the line giving out the medals does not present one to the young black girl.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the clip as “very sad”.

The incident happened in March 2022 but has only gained widespread public attention in recent days.

Four-time Olympic champion Simone Biles is among those who have expressed support for the girl, who is now 11, saying the clip “broke my heart”.

The girl’s mother, who does not wish her daughter to be named, complained to governing body Gymnastics Ireland at the time and participated in an independent arbitration process to secure a public apology.

Gymnastics Ireland issued an unreserved apology earlier this week, acknowledging the incident should not have happened.

However, the gymnast’s mother has criticised the governing body for taking 18 months to say sorry publicly.

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Varadkar was asked about the controversy as he spoke to reporters in Co Kildare on Friday.

“I saw that video, I only saw it myself in the last week or two and it was very sad,” he said.

“And I was very sorry to see it and I know Minister (Thomas) Byrne, the minister for sport, has reached out to the family and has tried to contact them.

“You know, there’s no place for any form of racism or discrimination or sexism in sport.

“And I think it is a real shame that it took Gymnastics Ireland so long to deal with it, but I’m glad that they finally have.”

The girl’s mother said her child’s confidence had been hit by what happened.

“Do you know when something happens, and you think and you just rewind, and you say, ‘Did that just happen?’ It was horrendous,” she told RTE.

“It took so much strength trying to explain why she shouldn’t feel otherwise, trying to bring back the confidence.

“To be honest, we keep supporting her. It did knock her confidence. She is the only black child competing in the competition and that happens. It is horrendous.”

In a statement issued this week, Gymnastics Ireland said it 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,” it added.

“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.”

The organisation said it had appointed an independent expert to review its policies and procedures earlier this year and it was “fully committed” to implementing a series of subsequent recommendations “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,” Gymnastics Ireland added.

“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.”