Emma Green-Tregaro

Isinbayeva says Green Tregaro’s gesture was disrespectful to Russia

Yelena Isinbayeva defends laws banning promotion of homosexuality, having objected to Emma Green Tregaro’s rainbow-painted nails

Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, the face of the Moscow world championships, has defended her country’s controversial laws banning the promotion of homosexuality and criticised international athletes for showing support for gay and lesbian people during the competition.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist, who won her third world championship to roars of approval at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium on Tuesday, told a press conference that Swedish athletes who painted their nails in rainbow colours were being disrespectful to Russians.

“We consider ourselves like normal, standard people, we just live boys with women, girls with boys … it comes from the history,” she said. “[The protests are] disrespectful to our country. It’s disrespectful to our citizens, because we are Russians,” she said.

“Maybe we are different than European people and people from different lands. We have our law which everyone has to respect. When we go to different countries, we try to follow their rules. We are not trying to set our rules over there. We are just trying to be respectful,” the 31-year-old said.

The controversial new law, which will apply to athletes and spectators at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, outlaws the promotion of homosexuality to minors.

Earlier Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro and 200m runner Moa Hjelmer competed with their fingernails painted in the colours of the rainbow flag used by the gay movement.

Green Tregaro posted on Instagram a photo of her fingernails painted in rainbow colours, adding a caption that included the hashtag “#pride.”

US middle-distance runner Nick Symmonds became the first international athlete to denounce the law on the country’s soil after winning silver in the 800m on Tuesday. Symmonds dedicated his medal to his gay and lesbian friends and called for equal rights for different sexual orientations.

Russian LGBT activists condemned Isinbayeva’s comments, saying they would add to discrimination agaisnt homosexuals.

“Her opinion will be heard, and it will affect the opinion of society. She’s made her small contribution to the formation of homophobia,” said Artyom Prozherin, a gay 23-year-old supply manager in Moscow.

“These kinds of words build up, and as a result in some place in the country they turn into aggression, violence or suicide,” he added.

Activist Nikolai Alekseev said Isinbayeva was “one of heroes” of Russian sport. “What she says along these lines will be listened to by Russian viewers,” he said. “What some Swedish or American athletes say doesn’t worry anyone.” Both men called on international athletes to express their positions at the Sochi games.

“Everything that will attract attention to LGBT and the homophobic law will be effective,” Alekseev said. “It could be buttons, flags, statements during press conferences, interviews with Russian or foreign mass media.”

“If the championships took place without any problems, everyone would say everything is OK for us. When people are expressing themselves they understand that this is just the start, there will be much more of this in Sochi,” he added. “The foundations have been laid.”

A Levada Center poll published in March showed that 85% of Russians were against same-sex marriage and 34% thought homosexuality was a disease. Surveys have shown rising homophobic sentiment in recent years.