The rainbow colors two Swedish athletes painted on their fingernails in support of gays and lesbians sent a clear message and brought a swift rebuke from a Russian star, perhaps even a glimpse of what is to come at the Sochi Winter Olympics next year.
Speaking at the world championships, pole vault gold medalist Yelena Isinbayeva condemned homosexuality and criticized the Swedes for their gesture critical of Russia’s new anti-gay legislation.
The law, which bans gay “propaganda,” has drawn sharp criticism and led some Western activists to call for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in the Russian resort.
Isinbayeva won her third world title on Tuesday before a boisterous home crowd and drew even louder cheers on Thursday when she received her gold medal, but before accepting it, the woman who will serve as “mayor” of one of the Sochi Olympic villages spoke in favor of the anti-gay stance.
“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,” Isinbayeva, a two-time Olympic champion, said in English. “We just live with boys with woman, woman with boys. Everything must be fine. It comes from history. We never had any problems, these problems in Russia, and we don’t want to have any in the future.”
Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro, who won a bronze medal at the 2005 worlds, and sprinter Mao Hjelmer sported rainbow colors on their fingernails for their events at Luzhniki Stadium, which also hosted the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
“The first thing that happened when I came to Moscow and pulled my curtains aside was that I saw the rainbow, and that felt a little ironic,” Green Tregaro said in a video posted on the Web site of the Swedish newspaper Expressen. “Then I had a suggestion from a friend on Instagram that maybe I could paint my nails in the colors of the rainbow and that felt like a simple, small thing that maybe could trigger some thoughts.”
Isinbayeva said it was wrong for the Swedes to make such a statement while competing in Russia.
“It’s unrespectful [sic] to our country. It’s unrespectful to our citizens because we are Russians. Maybe we are different from European people and other people from different lands,” Isinbayeva told reporters. “We have our home and everyone has to respect [it]. When we arrive to different countries, we try to follow their rules.”
Russia’s new law does not explicitly ban participation in gay pride parades or promotion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality online, but anyone wearing a rainbow flag on the street or writing about gay relationships on Facebook, for instance, could be accused of propagandizing.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and soccer governing body FIFA have asked the Russian government for more clarification. It remains unclear if the new law will be enforced during the Sochi Olympics or the FIFA World Cup.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the sport’s governing body, said the opinions of all athletes should be respected.
“The IAAF constitution underlines our commitment to principle of nondiscrimination in terms of religious, political or sexual orientation,” IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said. “Allied to this is our belief in free expression as a basic human right, which means we must respect the opinions of both Green Tregaro and Isinbayeva.”