A two-time Olympic gold medalist from Russia is walking back controversial comments she made in support of her country’s anti-gay laws.
Yelena Isinbayeva, a champion pole vaulter, said Friday that her apparent defense of a newly-enacted law banning homosexual “propaganda” may have been “misunderstood” due to a language barrier.
“English is not my first language,” said Isinbayeva in a statement released Friday, reports the Associated Press. “What I wanted to say was that people should respect the laws of other countries particularly when they are guests.”
“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,” she said.
The 31-year-old’s statement was in response to backlash she’d received for criticizing two Swedish athletes who had painted their nails rainbow-colored in support of gay rights. She also seemed to condemn homosexuality in its entirety, suggesting it deviated from “normal” behavior.
“If we allow to promote and do all this stuff on the street, we are very afraid about our nation because we consider ourselves like normal, standard people,” said Isinbayeva Thursday. “We just live with boys with women, women with boys.”
Fellow athletes and pundits criticized Isinbayeva’s initial remarks, which came amid mounting outrage over a series of anti-gay measures signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Calls for boycotts of Russian vodka and the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi have echoed across protests throughout the world.
President Obama recently condemned Russia’s crackdown on gays and lesbians, and suggested it would be unwise for the country to enforce its laws during the Olympics. Russian officials have stood by their most contentious piece of legislation, which imposes heavy fines for anyone promoting gay “propaganda” in front of minors, and promised the law would remain in effect for the games.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has so far provided little guidance or guarantees for the safety of LGBT competitors and their families, but IOC President Jacques Rogge has asked Russia for clarification on its “propaganda” law.
“We don’t think it is a fundamental issue, more a translation issue,” said Rogge last week.
Perhaps Rogge is hoping that like Isinbayeva’s comments, Russia’s laws have been misunderstood.