Simone Biles scored a major victory for African American gymnasts at the World Gymnastics Championships in Antwerp earlier in the month, as the 16-year-old star became the first African American to win an all-around world title. However, one of her opponents is in hot water following insensitive remarks.
According to the Philip Hersh of the Chicago Tribune, Italy's Carlotta Ferlito suggested that Biles' skin color had something to do with her success in Antwerp. In addition to the all-around title, Biles captured gold in floor exercise, silver in vault and bronze in balance beam. Ferlito finished 11th in the all-around, which prompted her to reveal a conversation she had with Italian teammate Vanessa Ferrari.
Ferlito was reportedly asked about why her score was unexpectedly low in relation to Biles' on the beam, and she responded with a comment that has been labeled as racist by many.
"I told Vanny (Ferrari) that next time we should also paint our skin black, so then we could win too."
Ferrari and Ferlito finished just behind Biles in the balance beam apparatus final at fourth and fifth respectively, while Ferrari finished sixth in the all-around competition, and Ferlito came in 11th.
Ferlito later apologized for her comments on Twitter, and she chalked it up to failing to think before she spoke.
While Ferlito's apology may have been genuine, Italian Gymnastics Federation official David Ciaralli certainly hasn't helped matters by trying to rationalize what Ferlito said, per Hersh.
Ciaralli wrote, “Carlotta was referring to a trend in gymnastics at this moment, which is going towards a technique that opens up new chances to athletes of color (well-known for power)” while penalizing the more artistic Eastern European style that allowed Russians and Romanians to dominate the sport for years.
“Why aren’t there blacks in swimming?” Ciaralli wrote. “Because the sport doesn’t suit their physical characteristics. Is gymnastics becoming the same thing, to the point of wanting to be colored?”
Ciaralli apologized for his comments as well, and added that Ferlito is not a racist.
“Possibly in saying this, I made a mistake, and I am sorry,” Ciaralli said. “What I said was my thoughts, not the official thoughts of the federation.
“I know Carlotta. She is not racist. It was just a stupid answer, and she was joking.”
Ferlito's controversial race-related comment is the one that made headlines, but she also complained about Biles making the podium in the balance beam final over herself and Ferrari.
Biles did the most awful performance I have ever seen her do and made the podium because the USA always complains and therefore I and Vanessa are less than a 10th of a point from the podium, fourth and fifth. The judges always protect the Americans.
There has been plenty of backlash since Ferlito's comments, and even Biles' parents have spoken out. According to Kelly Whiteside of USA Today, her father, Ron, took issue with what Ferlito said.
"I found it very insulting," he said. "The racial comment was really out of line."
Also, Biles' mother, Nellie, told her daughter that she shouldn't allow the comments to put a damper on what she accomplished.
"It did bother her," Nellie said. "I told her, 'Don't get roped into this' and, 'Don't let those comments ruin this moment for you. Just be proud of your performance and outcome.' People are entitled to their opinion. For her to go into this racism stuff is pointless, and she's not going to address it."
Biles hasn't commented publicly about Ferlito's comments, and it doesn't appear as though she will following her mother's statement. Ferlito seems genuinely regretful for what she said, but she certainly didn't do herself any favors in the court of public opinion.
There is no room for racism in gymnastics, sports or everyday life in general, so hopefully everyone involved is able to learn from this situation.
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