A day after condemning homosexuality, Russian pole vault great Yelena Isinbayeva appeared to back off from her critical words Friday by saying her comments in English may have been "misunderstood."
The two-time Olympic gold medallist supported Russia's new anti-gay law on Thursday and criticized two Swedish competitors for their rainbow-coloured fingernails in support of gay rights.
"English is not my first language and I think I may have been misunderstood when I spoke yesterday," Isinbayeva said in a statement issued through local organizers of the world championships.
"What I wanted to say was that people should respect the laws of other countries particularly when they are guests. 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."
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On Thursday, Isinbayeva said: "If we allow to promote and do all this stuff on the street, we are very afraid about our nation because we consider ourselves like normal, standard people. We just live with boys with woman, woman with boys."
The law, passed in June, prohibits spreading so-called "propaganda" in support of "non-traditional" relationships to minors. It has provoked calls in the West for boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be held six months from now in the Russian resort of Sochi.
It also has raised concern about how gay athletes might be treated in Sochi. Russian officials have made contradictory statements about whether the law would be enforced during the games and the International Olympic Committee has asked for clarification.
'Every country has its own traditions'
Both the law and Isinbayeva's comments appear to have placed other Russian athletes in a bind between liberal impulses and support for their country.
"On the one hand, you have to respect everybody's individuality, the interests of other people," Russian triple jumper Aleksey Fedorov said Friday. "On the other hand, you have to look at the history of each country.
"Every country has its own traditions."
Steve Cram, the British runner who won the first 1,500-meter gold medal at the 1983 worlds, competed in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, when many other Western countries refused to go for political reasons.
"I don't believe in boycotts," Cram said in Moscow. "I think situations like that should be aired, should be allowed to be aired and spoken about by anyone who wants to.
"People should be allowed to give their opinions. I don't agree with her opinions, I don't agree with the [Russian law], but that's my personal opinion."
Even though Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, antipathy toward gays is traditionally widespread and longstanding in Russia.
A survey by the independent Levada Center polling agency released a week after the law was passed found 76 per cent of Russians supported it and 17 per cent opposed it.
Although Isinbayeva's comments on Thursday received wide attention in the West, Russian media gave them little or no attention. The sports newspaper Sport-Express ran a roundup of foreign comment on the issue on its website, but not in the print edition.