MOSCOW: Russian pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva faced outrage on Friday from activists and fellow athletics legends after backing Russia’s controversial new anti-gay law and saying competitors at the Sochi Winter Olympics should respect it.
The 31-year-old kicked up a storm on Thursday when she said in Moscow she supported the law signed by President Vladimir Putin in June, which punishes the dissemination of information about homosexuality to minors. Activists say it can be used for a broad crackdown against gays.
“We are tolerant of all existing opinions and respect all people,” said Isinbayeva, an IOC Youth Olympics ambassador and also an ambassador for the February Olympics in Sochi.
“But they must be respectful of our laws and not promote the ideas of non-traditional orientations on the street,” she added, using the term used by Russian officials to describe homosexuality.
The Russian authorities have said all athletes will be free and safe to compete at the February Games in the Black Sea resort regardless of their sexual orientation but must obey Russian law.
While possibly playing well with a domestic audience, her stance has provoked outrage with American 400 meters legend and world record holder Michael Johnson denouncing her.
“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,” Johnson said 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—though the Russian has decided to take a break to have a baby before deciding whether to return to competition.
“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.”