British Gymnastics performance director defends decision to omit Becky Downie

British Gymnastics performance director James Thomas has defended the decision not to select Becky Downie as part of the four-strong British women’s team for next month’s Tokyo Olympics.

Sources close to Downie said she was left “broken” by the news, which came less than a month after the sudden death of her brother Josh.

Downie, a former world silver medallist on the uneven bars, was granted an additional chance to impress at a specially-arranged trial following the family tragedy, but failed to do enough to convince the selection panel.

Becky Downie hoped she had done enough to claim an Olympics berth
Becky Downie hoped she had done enough to claim an Olympics berth (Martin Rickett/PA)

Sixteen-year-old twins Jennifer and Jessica Gadirova, former European beam champion Alice Kinsella and Amelie Morgan were selected in a clear sign that selectors wished to prioritise chances in the team event.

Thomas was forced to deny the selection was related to the move by Becky and her younger sister Ellie to speak out on the sport’s abuse scandal last year, and stressed the decision to undertake the additional trial in difficult circumstances had been Downie’s own.

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.

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“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.”

Nevertheless sources close to the gymnast told the PA news agency she believed she had done enough to justify her place in the team, and was left reeling after being informed to the contrary.

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’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.

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.

Olympics – Team GB Kitting Out – The NEC
Becky Downie’s sister Ellie is taking some time away from the sport (John Walton/PA)

Gymnasts for Change, a campaign group set up for those who have suffered abuse, described the decision 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.

However, Downie’s supporters argue the chances of a team medal remain minimal even with a full quartet, and that even an out-of-form Downie would have offered a better bet on the sport’s most unpredictable piece of equipment.