Russian pole vault legend Yelena Isinbayeva said Thursday she was against a boycott of next February’s Sochi Olympics over a controversial law banning gay “propaganda” for minors.
The 31-year-old – who gave the World Athletics Championships in Moscow the spark it needed on Tuesday when she won her third world outdoor title – added foreign athletes who contravened the law should face criminal charges.
Several sports people have called for a boycott of the Sochi Games – the first Winter Olympics to be hosted by Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in June signed into law legislation that punishes the dissemination of information about homosexuality to minors but which activists say can be used for a broad crackdown against gays.
However, while Western leaders such as US president Barack Obama and British Prime Minister have criticised the law they have ruled out a boycott as they said it would not be appropriate.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) have also raised concerns the law may contravene their charter but its’ president Jacques Rogge said last Friday they still needed clarification over two paragraphs which were unclear after they had been translated into English.
Isinbayeva, though, said that was crystal clear about her stance.
“I do not support this boycott (idea),” she said at a press conference.
“I am against polemics. If politicians and other people who have nothing to do with sport want to use us in this boycott then I am against it.”
Isinbayeva, who is planning to take a break and have a baby before deciding whether to return to competition, said athletes who broke the law should face the consequences.
The Russian authorities have said all athletes will be free and safe to compete at the Sochi Games regardless of their sexual orientation but must obey Russian law.
Foreigners found guilty of violating the law can not only be fined up to 5,000 rubles ($156, 114 euros) but face administrative arrest of up to 15 days and eventual deportation.
“Of course if they (Sochi participants) are going to propagandise homosexuality on the street then that will show a lack of respect for us,” she said.
“We are against propaganda of such relationships but we are not against what choice a person makes or who they make a relationship with.”
Isinbayeva, who has revolutionised the event in the same manner Ukrainian legend Sergey Bubka did the men’s in the 1980’s and 1990’s, said it was only natural foreigners should respect the laws of the country they were visiting.
“Yes, maybe we Russians are different from foreigners but when we go into another country we show respect to local laws,” she said.
“I hope that this problem will not destroy our Olympic Games in Sochi. I really want people to stop mixing this up.”
The last Olympics to be boycotted were the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles when the majority of the Eastern Bloc – Romania being an exception – retaliated for the West’s boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow over the then Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
[Image via AFP]