A family member of an athlete who was on the podium for the iconic ‘Black Power’ salute at the 1968 Olympics has criticised Gymnastics Ireland over its treatment of the young gymnast who was passed over at an awards ceremony last year.
Australian Peter Norman knew the salute was going to take place to protest against racism in Mexico City, and he wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge to support his fellow athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos.
“I am now standing with (the young black gymnast) for the same reason,” his nephew, Matt Norman, wrote in a letter to the black girl and her family.
He saw the video of the controversial medal ceremony that took place in the Sport Ireland National Indoor Arena in March 2022, describing it as a “moment of joy [that] has been ruined because of an incident that could easily shape her life moving forward”.
Mr Norman suggested that Gymnastics Ireland needed to be reminded that “each person should be treated equally”, and that “this type of thing should never be overlooked in your sport and should… never happen again”.
“I was really saddened to see that on this occasion (the gymnast) was left out at that most crucial time when she should be celebrating with her friends and family,” he wrote.
“This is something that should never happen in sport and especially at a young girl’s prime when all she wants to do is compete with her friends.”
Addressing the young gymnast, who has excelled in athletics since the controversy and is considered one of the brightest prospects in her age group, Mr Norman said “something stood out to me, watching that video of you”.
“It showed me that you were strong, beautiful, professional, and showed me you held yourself with dignity and grace. I am so very proud of you, and I know how much confusion and pain this must have caused you but you still showed an amazing spirit even while you were not presented with your medal.
“Please don’t give up on the sport (or any sport) because of this incident… If anything like this happens again, know that ‘I’ll Stand with You’ to stamp this out,” he added, referring to the title of a film he made about racism in sport.
Addressing Gymnastics Ireland, Mr Norman said: “This moment should be a reminder that something so small (yet very important) can lead to such upset and angst.
“Our children are our future. An incident like this could easily forge an unhealthy view of the world for someone like (the gymnast) and could ruin a perfect childhood because of one incident.
“How many other incidents go unnoticed?” he added.
In a message intended for the young gymnast’s parents, Mr Norman said the way their daughter had handled the situation was “so brave”.
“Don’t let this incident define the country you live in. I’m so sorry that this has had a negative impact on your lives,” he wrote, promising to stand with them if this ever happens again.
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