Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva appeared to back her country’s new anti-gay laws, but then quickly backtracked in the face of criticism and now says she opposes any discrimination toward homosexuals.
The comments came in what has become a growing controversy over a newly enacted law in Russia banning “homosexual propaganda.” Critics say the law amounts to a fine against anything deemed a homosexual display, essentially banning gays from any form of expression in public.
Even more controversy arose when a Russian lawmaker said the law would be enacted at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, leaving gay athletes from foreign nations at risk of facing arrest or fines.
The law has come under attack from protesters in Russia and western nations, and has even led to talk of a boycott for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Some of the tensions have boiled over at the track and field championships in Moscow this week. American runner Nick Symmonds dedicated a silver medal to his gay friends, and other athletes have painted pole vaults or nails rainbow colors in solidarity with Russia’s oppressed gay population.
The Russian pole vaulter Isinbayeva, who is arguably the biggest track and field star in the nation, had called on others to respect Russia’s right to suppress homosexuality.
“It’s unrespectful to our country,” she said at a news conference Thursday. “It’s unrespectful to our citizens because 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.”
She added that Russians are “normal, standard people” who live “boys with women, and women with boys.”
But after her remarks were published and criticized, Yelena Isinbayeva walked back the comments.
“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,” the Russian pole vaulter said in a statement.