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US Runner Symmonds Shocked By Isinbayeva's Anti-Gay Comments

posted 16 Aug 2013, 10:00 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 16 Aug 2013, 10:01 ]

U.S. runner and world silver medallist Nick Symmonds is shocked by pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva's anti-gay comments, says she is far behind the free world.

MOSCOWRUSSIA (AUGUST 16, 2013) (REUTERS) -  U.S. runner and world silver medallist Nick Symmonds on Friday (August 16) criticized Russian pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva's anti-gay comments.

Russia's anti-gay propaganda law continues to hang over the world athletics championships like a depressing pall, and in the absence of fans or superlative performances it threatens to become the uneasy, abiding memory of the Moscowevent.

With Russia due to hold the Winter Olympics next year and soccer's World Cup in 2018 the Government's stance, popular at home but fiercely at odds with many of the countries due to take part and already condemned by U.S. President Barack Obama, is likely remain a touch-paper for protest.

On Thursday (August 15) Isinbayeva, who is one of Russia's best known athletes, told journalists at a news conference that people should respect Russian laws, and that "We consider ourselves, like normal, standard people, we just live boys with women, girls with boys ... it comes from the history."

In response Symmonds, who said he had been told he risked jail if he wore a rainbow badge, criticized Isinbayeva.

"What Isinbayeva said that they are normal, standard people here who believe in normal, standard marriage - I just say, Yelena, there is a large portion of your citizenship here who are normal, standard people who just happen to be homosexual. They are normal, and they are standard, and they were born this way, and they deserve to have equality and to fall in love and to marry and to raise a family like everybody else," Symmonds said.

"She crossed the line to me in that she's not recognizing the normality of our gay and lesbian friends and not wanting their happiness and their rights. How an intelligent, well-travelled lady like herself could be so far behind the free world, just kind of shocked me a little bit, to be honest," Symmonds added.

Isinbayeva, who is an ambassador for Sochi 2014, will be mayor of the main athletes' Olympic village.

"I don't think anyone expected that from her, you know. She's a very lucky woman who has worked very hard for everything that she has. You know, she's very blessed to be living in Monaco most of the year, which is obviously a very nice place to live. I think that maybe if she was to take a step back and realize that there are people in her home country of Russia who are being beaten in the streets just for showing love to another person, maybe she'd rethink her position," Symmonds said.

Russian controversial anti-gay propoganda legislation, which was passed in June, outlaws some aspects of the promotion of homosexuality and has become a political hot potato ahead of next year's Sochi Winter Olympics, when it will apply to athletes and spectators.

Critics of the law have said it effectively disallows all gay rights rallies and could be used to prosecute anyone voicing support for homosexuals.

Russia's leading gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev also criticised Isinbayeva.

"An athlete of such calibre should be thinking about what she is saying. And Russiashould first abide by its own international obligations before it demands from foreigners to abide by its own laws here. Therefore, unfortunately Isinbayeva has made a big mistake. She realised it today and started trying to get out of this situation. She tried to deny what she said blaming the difficulty with translation, the difficulty with using the (foreign) language and so on. But that does not change a thing."

"I think that she at all does not understand what exactly she has said. I think that she does not understand at all what this law is all about where under a pretext of defending children anything could be done here," Alexeyev added.

Other athletes have also spoken out about Isinbayeva's comments.

"I don't think you should try to make a political statement in such an event that brings so much good around the world," former 100 metres world record holder Olympic champion and five-time world champion Maurice Green said.

"You know, they (Russians) make the laws and you know I mean it's really a sad thing, you know. That's why us in America, we are a free country and you are able to say and do practically anything that you want. So Nick (Symmonds) standing up for them is a great thing. And I mean I just wish the athletes the best," Green added.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has asked the Russian government for a clear translation and a clarification of how the law will be applied during the Sochi games

Social commentators in Russia have said that the country is likely to adopt something of a siege mentality in the face of worldwide condemnation and that a change in the law, which is broadly popular with the conservative majority, would be considered an unthinkable loss of face.