Carlotta Ferlito said it was just a misunderstanding when she claimed that an American gymnast only won the World Championship all-around title because she’s black.
The Italian gymnast made the remarks in a press conference following the championship last week, which was claimed by Simone Biles. The 16-year-old American made history when she became the first African-American to win the all-around title, but her victory was marred by the controversy sparked by Ferlito.
When asked about Biles, Ferlito respoinded, “I told Vanny (teammate Vanessa Ferrari) that next time we should also paint our skin black, so then we could win too.”
Later in the week the Italian Gymnastics Federation released a statement saying that the statement was just a “misunderstanding.” But the officials statement, published in Italian on the federation’s official website and Facebook page, never actually apologized to Simone Biles or USA Gymnastics.
“The Italian Gymnastics Federation is aware of the Twitter apology its athlete, Carlotta Ferlito, gave about statements she made after the all-around final… statements that, knowing the moral qualities of this Sicilian athlete, can only have been misunderstood,” the federation wrote. “However, (federation) president Riccardo Agabio is seizing this opportunity to condemn strongly and distance (the federation) from any form of racism and discrimination, which are not part of the history and culture of Italian gymnastics.”
Federation spokesman David Ciaralli added to the controversy with comments that black athletes have physical advantages in some aspects of gymnastics.
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 added. “Because the sport doesn’t suit their physical characteristics. Is gymnastics becoming the same thing, to the point of wanting to be colored?”
Ron Biles, the Simone’s father, called comments “insulting” and out of line, and pointed out that being black is not normally an advantage in society.
Ciaralli later apologized for his statements, saying they were his own thoughts and did not reflect the federation.
Carlotta Ferlito also apologized for the statements, tweeting: “I’ve made a mistake, I’m not perfect, I was too nervous and I didn’t think about what I was saying. I’m just a human. I’m so so sorry.”