Russia's Isinbayeva claims 'misunderstood' over anti-gay remarks
MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva smiles on the podium during the medal ceremony for the women's pole vault at the 2013 IAAF World Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on August 15, 2013. AFP PHOTO / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEVRussian pole vault legend Yelena Isinbayeva attempted Friday to play down the furore provoked by her anti-gay remarks, saying she was "misunderstood" and was opposed to any discrimination against homosexuals.
Isinbayeva provoked outrage at the Moscow World Athletics Championships when she fired off an emotional rant in support of Russia's controversial 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 on the grounds of their sexuality." "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.
The controversial law was signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in June and punishes the dissemination of information about homosexuality to minors but which activists say 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.
"Everything must be fine here, it comes from the history, we never had these problems in Russia and we don't want to have it in the future." In her statement Friday, Isinbayeva, who is 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.
Her initial remarks 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.
"She is clearly not in touch with the rest of the world," said Lewis, who is also in Moscow as a BBC pundit.
"I'm surprised her management didn't advise her to be a little more cautious with throwing her views out there. This is clearly very damning for her as a global superstar." The Russian has decided to take a break to have a baby before deciding whether to return to competition ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
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.
The controversy over the anti-gay law has stubbornly refused to go away before and during the World Athletics Championships with one senior IOC member cursing the government for their timing.
"Why on earth didn't the government wait till after the Sochi Olympics. It's created a right old mess," he told AFP on condition of anonymity