MOSCOW: Yelena Isinbayeva has compromised her status as an Olympic youth ambassador and athletics poster girl after speaking up in favour of Russia’s anti-gay legislation writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
The newly recrowned world pole vault champion criticised athletes who painted nails in support of gays and lesbians in the growing storm over the law which prohibits the dissemination of information about homosexuality to under-18s.
Athletes in Moscow at the current World Championships who painted their nails included Sweden’s high jumper Emma Green-Tregaro and sprinter Moa Hjelmer.
Isinbayeva – ceremonial mayor of the Olympic Village at next year’s Sochi Winter Games – said: “We are very afraid about our nation because we consider ourselves normal, standard people. We just live with boys with women, women with boys. Everything must be fine. It comes from history. We never had these problems in Russia, and we don’t want to have any in the future.
“Everyone can participate, everyone can compete, but of course if they will promote sexual relations outside in the street it won’t be respectable for a lot of our citizens because we are all, from inside of us, against it.
“We are against publicity but we are not of course about every choice of every single person. It’s their life, it’s their choice, it’s their feelings, but we’re just against the publicity in our country and I support that.
“We are Russians. Maybe we are different than European people, than other people from different lands. We have our law which everyone has to respect. It’s my opinion also.”
The issue has prompted concerns that the law conflicts with the Olympic Charter which prohibits discrimination of any form.
The IOC is understood to be seeking clarification on her precise words – just as both it and FIFA (with the 2018 World Cup in mind) have asked for clarification over the precise terms of the legislation.
Whatever Isinbayeva’s personal views – to which she has every right – her reported comments have raised a concern about whether she can continue as an official IOC ambassador for the Youth Olympic Games.
Isinbayeva was appointed by president Jacques Rogge in April 2010 to “encourage the participation of young people in sport around the world.”
Rogge described her then as “a true role model for young people.”
Athletics can ill afford to see Isinbayeva caught up in such controversy at a time when she and Usain Bolt are being projected as the icons of a sport hit by so many high-visibility doping cases.
Isinbayeva’s statement was criticised by United States middle-distance runner Nick Symmonds who had dedicated his 800m silver to gay and lesbian friends.
He said, in a BBC interview: “It blows my mind that such a young, well-travelled, educated woman would be so far behind the times. For most athletes from my generation it’s not an issue, for the most part we believe in equality.”