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A young Black gymnast was denied a medal in Ireland

The snub has sparked outrage on social media, and placed Gymnastics Ireland under the spotlight. 

Last week, a video went viral for all the wrong reasons. Taken in March 2022, the clip shows a line of children at a Gymstart event in Dublin. Each of them is awarded a medal, except for the one Black girl pictured.

Since the footage re-emerged, it’s been watched by millions on social media. The incident has sparked international outrage and garnered attention from notable figures in the sporting world. Olympic champion Simone Biles said this week that the video ‘broke her heart’.

It was only after Biles’ high-profile reference to the clip that Gymnastics Ireland – the organisation responsible for hosting the Gymstart event – issued a public apology.

This comes after the young gymnast’s family said the sporting group had suppressed a personal apology letter, and ‘refused to acknowledge or tackle systemic racism in the sport’.

Since the incident last March, GI had not made any commitment to investigate the incident or improve protection for athletes of colour. Instead, they put it down to a personal dispute between the gymnast’s family and a specific woman at the event.

‘It’s unbelievable that you treat a little girl this way’ her mother told the Guardian. ‘It’s a systematic problem, because when you [GI] don’t speak out, the message is that you are happy for it to go on.’

The girl and her family have chosen to remain anonymous for fear of further racial abuse. The officials in question have staunchly denied any racist behaviour, and the girl eventually received a medal. But footage of the incident has still drawn widespread controversy.

Ultimately those responsible have yet to provide any plausible reason why the girl was denied an award in the first place.

Racism in sport is an insidious issue that continues to impact athletes globally. But to be so unashamedly prejudice – and to a child no less – is what makes this case so unsettling.

‘We are often the only Black family at gymnastics events and this has been very hurtful for us’ the child’s mother told the Irish Independent.

The international response to the video has been overwhelmingly supportive of the young gymnast, with many rallying to support her athletic goals.

‘This little black girl broke my heart. Don’t skip this post without leaving a million heart of her. Make her famous…[sic]’ one X user said.

It’s hoped the incident won’t deter young girls of colour from pursuing athletic careers and interests, but rather force industry officials to turn inward and address latent issues of racial prejudice.

Along with her public show of support, Biles also told X followers that she had sent the young gymnast a personal video.

Gymnastics Ireland eventually issued an apology ‘for the upset caused.’

‘What happened on the day should not have happened and for that we are deeply sorry,’ the organisation said in a statement this week.

It’s far too little too late. But the video and subsequent backlash do provide a vital opportunity for reform within gymnastics.

‘We would also like to engage 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 in this regard’ Gymnastics Ireland wrote.

It’s hard not to be pessimistic about these remarks – to assume a performative intent. But if more pressure can be placed on sporting institutions, forcing them to address their own issues, then perhaps something good can come from this heartbreaking incident.

Regardless, a public callout seems to be the only reason GI have expressed any remorse whatsoever.

The young girl’s mother discovered that after a long and painful mediation with the organisation, a judge had written a long personal apology letter to the family. Despite handing it to GI, it was never passed on.

Written soon after the Gymstart in March 2022, the gymnast’s mother said the judge was shocked when the family told her they hadn’t received a letter. ‘I didn’t believe her initially. But her email account showed the woman had sent a more detailed apology letter, and Gymnastics Ireland had withheld it from me.’

‘[Gymnastics Ireland] condemns any form of racism whatsoever’ the organisation said in the aftermath.

But if these actions aren’t born out of racism, then how to explain them?