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Under-fire Yelena Isinbayeva says she was misunderstood

Friday, 16 August 2013 - 4:15pm IST | Place: Moscow | Agency: Reuters
Russian pole vaulter says she is against sexual discrimination; blames controversial comments on poor English.

Russian pole vault queen Yelena Isinbayeva said on Friday she is opposed to sexual discrimination, and that her English comments in support of her country's anti-gay propaganda law may have been misconstrued.

"English is not my first language and I think I may have been misunderstood when I spoke yesterday," she said in a statement. "What I wanted to say was that people should respect the laws of other countries particularly when they are guests.

"But let me make it clear I respect the views of my fellow athletes, and let me state in the strongest terms that I am opposed to any discrimination against gay people on the grounds of their sexuality (which is against the Olympic charter)."

Isinbayeva, who won her third world title on Tuesday and is one of Russia's most popular sportswomen, caused international uproar on Thursday when she spoke out in favour of her country's recently-adopted law that bans some aspects of the promotion of homosexuality.

"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," Isinbayeva said in English during a media interview ahead of her medal presentation.

"We consider ourselves, like normal, standard people, we just live boys with women, girls with boys ... it comes from the history." Isinbayeva, who has now faced calls for her resignation as an Olympic youth ambassador, had been asked for her views after several Swedish athletes had painted their nails in rainbow colours in support of the gay movement.

American 800 metres runner Nick Symmonds said he was shocked by Isinbayeva's comments and that he had been told he risked jail if he wore a rainbow badge. "It blows my mind that a young, so well-educated woman can be so behind with the times," Symmonds told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"Guess what Yelena, a large portion of your citizenship are normal, standard homosexuals." The law, passed in June and that appears to have the widespread support of the Russian people, is already threatening to be a constant shadow over next year's Sochi Winter Olympics, where athletes, officials and fans will have to operate within its boundaries.

Last week, the International Olympic Committee said it had sought clarification from Russia on how the law would be applied and for a clear translation of its wording.

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