Kellie Harrington has apologised after she was embroiled in controversy earlier this year for sharing a tweet with anti-immigration sentiment. In an exclusive interview with The Irish Times published on Saturday, September 16, the Olympic champion said she has “been in a bit of a dark place” regarding the incident, adding that she’s “sad” it happened.
“I’m sorry for the tweet I put up. I’m sorry for the hurt that I caused,” she commented. “I am sad. I’ve been sad because of it. It happened. People say things without thinking about the consequences of it. And that was what happened.”
The social media post in question was a quote tweet of a report from British outlet GB News. In it, right-wing Political Commentator Eva Vlaardingerbroek spoke about Lola Daviet, a 12-year-old in France who had been reportedly murdered, with the journalist claiming young European girls were being “sacrificed on the altar of mass migration”.
Harrington shared this video in October 2022 alongside the caption: “Very very Sad. A powerful message from Eva Vlaardingerbroak. Our own leaders need to take a listen to this. She believes this is the 12th girl in France this year who has been killed by an immigrant…and that’s just France.”
Explaining her thought process in the situation, the boxer stated, “I was scrolling on my phone. I actually don’t even know how that tweet ended up on my Twitter because I don’t follow it – someone who I follow must follow that. And I didn’t even look at what it said, I just looked at the video.
“It was about 12-year-old girl who had been led to her death, raped, murdered and chopped up and put into a suitcase. And that just filled me with anger and sadness.
“To be very honest with you, I never thought of the hurt that I could cause to anybody by retweeting it. I never thought of what I said in the retweet either. I just said it. It was a spur of the moment thing. I said it and I put it up on Twitter,” she continued.
Almost as soon as she posted it, the LGBTQ+ athlete began receiving private messages from people she knew and respected, who warned her of the dangers of sharing such rhetoric.
“They weren’t being aggressive to me, they were just trying to educate me a little bit,” Harrington explained.
“I had basically painted a group of people with the same paintbrush that people like me, from my community, from my area have been and are still being painted with for many years. So I know what that’s like. And that’s exactly what I had done with my retweet. I didn’t realise that at the time.
“So I deleted the tweet. I took it down and I apologised personally in the messages to people who I had hurt. They understood and they said, ‘Look, we’re all learning.’ We’re all human, you know? There’s good and bad in everyone.
“And that was that. It was deleted and I moved on…I didn’t know the journalist in the tweet. I didn’t know her. I didn’t know what GMB [GB News] is. It was just on my Twitter.”
It wasn’t until months later, on March 27, 2023, that the backlash towards Kellie Harrington escalated after an Off The Ball journalist quizzed her about the tweet and her current views on immigration. The Olympian refused to answer Shane Hannon’s questions, accused him of having an agenda and advised that he “Let it go”.
The interview soon went viral, with many criticising Harrington’s reaction. Moreover, the controversy surrounding the athlete came at a time when anti-immigration rhetoric in Ireland is escalating, with many far-right groups holding hate-fueled demonstrations targeting refugee communities across the country.
— Off The Ball (@offtheball) March 27, 2023
“On that day, I just wasn’t expecting it. I was just shocked. And I reacted quite badly. At the time I didn’t think I reacted badly. I just thought, ‘I’m just not going to answer it.’ But once I looked back at it, I do think I reacted badly,” she says now.
Further, she expressed: “In fairness to the lads in Off The Ball, that’s their job…They’re journalists. They have to do what they have to do…I don’t blame him for asking the question.
“I was annoyed at myself that I didn’t answer it. I was totally shocked that it was coming back up again. I’m not known for politics or for anything other than sport. So I didn’t think that question was going to come back.
“I know I had put it out there. But I had deleted it. And I thought, ‘Right, that’s gone.’ But it wasn’t. It came back to bite me.”
A statement following my interview earlier with OTB pic.twitter.com/FGuO3w7Wwe
— Kellie Harrington (@Kelly64kg) March 27, 2023
She continued by saying when it comes to taking hits in boxing, she knows how “to step back, breathe, think about what’s after happening and to go again”. In contrast, when she saw the tweet in October, she didn’t “step back, breathe and think”.
“I just reacted. That’s what it was. Every action has a reaction and my reaction was to repost that. And then that reaction got another reaction and I deleted it. I was genuinely sorry for the upset and hurt that I caused to people. And I’m still sorry.”
Regarding her views on immigration, Kellie Harrington concluded: “I believe that Ireland is for everybody. It should be a place to feel safe and to feel welcome. And that’s regardless of your skin colour, your religion, your gender, your sexuality, or anything like that.
“Ireland is known as being so welcoming. You should be able to feel safe here. And I’m all for that.”
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