Isinbayeva 'misunderstood'

2013-08-17 08:49
Yelena Isinbayeva (AFP)
Moscow - Russian pole vault legend Yelena Isinbayeva has attempted on Friday to play down the furore provoked by her anti-gay remarks, saying she was "misunderstood" and opposed to discrimination against homosexuals.

Isinbayeva triggered outrage at the Moscow World Athletics Championships when she fired off an emotional rant in support of a controversial Russian anti-gay law and declared that in Russia "we just live with boys with women, women with boys."

With her reputation as one of the world's most popular athletes at stake, the 31-year-old issued a statement saying she was "opposed to any discrimination against gay people".

"English is not my first language and I think I may have been misunderstood when I spoke yesterday," said Isinbayeva, who only on Tuesday had regained her pole vault world title in Moscow after several years in the doldrums.

However, she stopped short of issuing an apology or withdrawing her support for Russia's now notorious "gay propaganda" law.

The controversial law, signed by President Vladimir Putin in June, punishes the dissemination of information about homosexuality to minors. But activists say it can be used for a broad crackdown against gays.

Fears it could be used against participants at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics have sparked calls for a boycott of the event in some quarters and Russian officials have said all athletes will have to obey the law at the Games.

"If we will allow to promote, allow to do all this stuff on the street (then) we are afraid for our nation," Isinbayeva said at Thursday's news conference in sometimes broken English.

"Because we consider ourselves like normal standard people -- we just live with boys with women, women with boys."

She said it had been "unrespectful" towards Russia for Swedish high jumper Emma Green-Tregaro to paint her nails in the colours of the rainbow flag that symbolises support for gay rights while competing in Moscow.

"We are Russians, maybe we are different from European people and other people from different lands. We have our law which everyone has to respect," said Isinbayeva.

In her statement Friday, Isinbayeva -- an International Olympic Committee (IOC) ambassador -- said she still maintained "people should respect the laws of other countries particularly when they are guests".

But she added: "But let me make it clear I respect the views of my fellow athletes and let me state in the strongest terms that I am opposed to any discrimination against gay people on the grounds of their sexuality, which is against the Olympic charter."

Isinbayeva will hope her statement goes some way towards repairing the catastrophic damage it had inflicted on her previously pristine reputation. The two-time Olympic champion and world recordholder's bubbly personality has always proved a winner with fans and sponsors.

"Isinbayeva understood that the main punishment for her would be the loss of all sponsorship contracts, that she would become a pariah in global sport," leading Russian gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev wrote on Twitter.

Her initial remarks had provoked stupefaction and condemnation from some sporting greats.

America's 400 metres world record holder Michael Johnson denounced a "very flawed judgement and a very flawed opinion".

"She is very popular over here with a small group of people who are very powerful and who probably buy into that view in this country," said the now retired Johnson in his capacity as a BBC pundit.

Britain's 2000 Olympic heptathlon champion Denise Lewis said Isinbayeva may not just suffer a severe blow to her reputation but also to her pocket.

"This is clearly very damning for her as a global superstar," said Lewis, also a BBC pundit.

Isinbayeva, who is based in the southern Russian city of Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), has publicly supported Putin as Russian leader and in the 2012 presidential election campaign was one of a group of top sports people allowed to officially campaign on his behalf.

She has now decided to take a break to have a baby before deciding whether to return to competition ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.


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