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No room for any form of racism in sport, Varadkar says after gymnastics medal incident

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR 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, that happened in March 2022, appeared to show the young Black girl being passed over by an official who was giving out the medals went viral on social media.

The video of the incident attracted international media attention over the weekend, and Olympic champion Simone Biles was amongst those to criticise the organisers of the event. 

She said that the clip “broke my heart”. 

Biles wrote on social media that she had sent a video message to the girl from the video, after her parents reached out to the athlete. 

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

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.

Varadkar was asked about the controversy as he spoke to reporters in Co Kildare today.

“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.”

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.”

Troubles Legacy Bill

Varadkar also made clear to reporters today that he is prepared to take legal action against the UK over its legacy laws.

The Taoiseach said the Government had not made a final decision on its response to the enactment of Westminster legislation that grants perpetrators of Troubles crimes a limited form of immunity.

He acknowledged taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights would have political implications for Ireland’s relationship with the UK.

However, he said the voice of victims was the Government’s primary consideration.

“Nobody wants to take their neighbour to court, it’s not something anyone ever wants to do, but sometimes you have to,” he said.

The legislation will provide limited immunity from prosecution for Troubles-related offences to those who co-operate with the new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.

It will also prevent future civil cases and inquests related to the Northern Ireland conflict.

The laws are opposed by all major Stormont parties and victims’ campaign groups.

Several families of Troubles victims have already launched legal challenges to the new laws.

Ireland’s Attorney General Rossa Fanning is preparing legal advice for Varadkar and Tánaiste Micheál Martin.

“We will have to make a decision in the coming weeks as to whether we take a case to Strasbourg, there are legal considerations as to whether our case will be strongest or whether backing a case from a victim or victims’ group will be stronger,” Varadkar said. 

“And there is, of course, a political decision, a political consideration. Relations have improved a lot with the UK government under the new prime minister.”

On the potential for a legal challenge against the UK, Varadkar added: “That’s a decision that the Tánaiste and I and the Attorney General will sit down about and make in the next few weeks and make a recommendation to Government.”

With reporting by Hayley Halpin