'Homophobic' Russian Yelena Isinbayeva vaults into gay row
'We never had these problems in Russia' claims Yelena; 'ridiculous' says Britain's Louise Hazel
WITH the athletics world championships in Moscow nearing their finale, Russian pole-vaulter and double Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva (above) has defended her country's stance on homosexuality.
Isinbayeva, who is considered the face of the championships, spoke out on Thursday against opponents of a Russian law which makes it illegal to promote homosexuality to under-18s, accusing Swedish athletes who painted their nails in rainbow colours of being disrespectful to their hosts.
"We consider ourselves like normal, standard people, we just live boys with women, women with boys," said Isinbayeva, who won Olympic gold in 2004 and 2008. "[The protests are] disrespectful to our country. It's disrespectful to our citizens, because we are Russians… we never had these problems in Russia, and we don't want to have any in the future."
The new law, which will apply to competitors during next year's Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, has already created a furore with British actor Stephen Fry calling on the International Olympic Committee [IOC] and the Prime Minister to intervene.
In Moscow this week Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro and sprinter Moa Hjelmer staged their own protest by competing with their fingernails painted in the rainbow colours of the gay movement.
"Maybe we are different than European people and people from different lands," said Isinbayeva when asked about the Swedes' action. "We have our law which everyone has to respect. When we go to different countries, we try to follow their rules."
Isinbayeva's comments have drawn a sharp response from British athlete Louise Hazel, who won gold in the heptathlon in the 2011 Commonwealth Games. Labelling Isinbayeva's outburst as "ridiculous" and "homophobic", Hazel continued: "I think it's really important that after the games there's a review of what she's said, as an ambassador to the Youth Olympics, and that the IOC really look and question whether that is in line with their values and their beliefs."
The 31-year-old Isinbayeva was appointed a youth ambassador by the IOC in 2010 but Hazel says she can't now remain in the position. "A role model is somebody we can look to for inspiration and also to imitate," she declared. "You're not supposed to exclude anyone and that's what she's done in making these comments.
"I would be worried if my children or the next generation of athletes were looking to Yelena Isinbayeva and thinking that these comments are acceptable because, quite simply, I don't think they are. They're sending the message that discrimination is OK and it quite clearly is not in this day and age." ·