Becky Downie speaks out after ‘unimaginable’ month
Becky Downie suggested she was offered a late chance to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics under false pretences after being controversially omitted from the four-strong British women’s gymnastics team.
Downie missed the final selection trial following the sudden death of her brother Josh last month, but was granted a further opportunity at a specially-arranged trial which she says was held in “unimaginable” circumstances.
In a carefully-worded statement on her social media sites, Downie wrote: “This past year has been incredibly difficult, but this last month has been unimaginable.
“Now is not the time, but I have so many questions. None more so than why I was offered an additional trial under such challenging circumstances, given what we all now know.”
Downie, a former world silver medallist on the uneven bars, was responding to comments from British Gymnastics performance director James Thomas, who said selectors had reached the decision to prioritise a team medal.
The four selected athletes – Alice Kinsella, Amelia Morgan and 16-year-old twins Jennifer and Jessica Gadirova – are all-round gymnasts, whilst Downie would only have competed on two of the four pieces of apparatus.
Thomas said the decision to prioritise the team had not been made prior to Downie’s trial, while he was also forced to deny her omission was related to the move by Becky and her younger sister Ellie to speak out on the sport’s abuse scandal last year.
Thomas said: “There is no athlete who was viewed in any other light around speaking out over the last 12 months that impacted on selection. I’m very confident the team were considered on their gymnastic merits and nothing else.
“In terms of Becky and the additional opportunity we put on for her due to tragic circumstances, we worked with Becky to offer that opportunity, and it was not a forced opportunity.
“At that point we hadn’t decided on the (prioritisation) of the team (event) because that was for the panel to do at the point of nomination.
“We felt that was the right thing to do in the circumstances – to allow Becky to finish her trial opportunity and then to consider her performances alongside all the other gymnasts.”
There is no athlete who was viewed in any other light around speaking out over the last 12 months that impacted on selection. I’m very confident the team were considered on their gymnastic merits and nothing else.
Downie’s camp are also aggrieved that the end of 48-hour window for her appeal against the selectors’ decision – which she submitted – coincided with the day of her brother’s funeral.
Ellie Downie, who withdrew herself from consideration following her brother’s death, tweeted on Monday of her sister’s snub: “I would say it comes as a shock but after how we’ve been treated this year it’s not really”.
Downie had previously expressed her frustration at British Gymnastics’ refusal to allow her to use her favoured brand of equipment for the trials, believing it could count against her.
Gymnasts4Change, a campaign group set up for those who have suffered abuse, described Downie’s snub as a “sinister warning to those who might speak out in future”.
But the British Athletes’ Commission, who earlier this year ran a helpline for young gymnasts in association with the NSPCC and whose head of athlete support, Sam Little, was on the selection panel as an independent observer, said they were “confident that despite difficult decisions being made, due process was followed”.
Under new Olympic rules, the best three scores on each piece of equipment count in accumulating the respective totals for the team competition, meaning the selection of Downie – who would only have competed on bars and beam – would have left little room for manoeuvre on the other apparatus.
Britain’s chances of a women’s team medal are negligible. At the most recent World Championships in 2019, a women’s team featuring both Downie sisters and Kinsella finished in seventh place, well adrift of the United States, Russia and Italy in the medal positions.
Downie added: “Performance aside, first and foremost I’m a human being. I don’t think I’ll ever truly get over the experience that I endured at the final trial.
“I’m not sure what will happen in terms of my future, but all I know is that I still love the sport, and I feel like I’m in the form of my life. I do know that I don’t want to retire like this.”