Russian pole vaulter’s remarks about gays spark calls for her removal from ambassador position
The International Olympic Committee will consider dropping Russian pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva as an Olympic ambassador following her comments about gay people, the organisation’s president, Jacques Rogge, said.
In his final solo news conference as head of the IOC , Rogge also said it has no power to influence Russia on the anti-gay legislation that has provoked an international outcry ahead of February’s Winter Games in Sochi.
“One should not forget that we are staging games in a sovereign state and that the International Olympic Committee cannot be expected to have an influence on sovereign affairs of a country,” Rogge said.
Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Isinbayeva spoke in defence of Russia’s law against gay “propaganda” after winning the title at last month’s world championships in Moscow.
Isinbayeva condemned homosexuality, saying Russians have “normal” heterosexual relations, and criticized two Swedish athletes who painted their fingernails in rainbow colors in support of gay rights.
The next day, Isinbayeva said her comments in English may have been misunderstood and that she is against any discrimination.
Her initial comments appeared to go against the IOC ideals and the promotional role she has held since 2010 as an ambassador for the Youth Olympics. Isinbayeva also is the “mayor” of one of two Olympic villages in Sochi, an honorary but symbolic and visible role.
Asked whether it was appropriate for Isinbayeva to remain as an Olympic ambassador, Rogge gave his first public indication that she could be removed from the role.
“This is something we will consider in due time,” he said.
Russia’s law prohibiting promotion of “nontraditional” sexual relations has been denounced by activists and criticized by US President Barack Obama. Activists have called for a boycott of the Sochi Games.
Rogge reiterated that the IOC has received assurances from the Russian government that it will abide by the Olympic Charter and that the law will not discriminate against athletes and spectators in Sochi.
Rogge said preparations were on track for the Sochi Games, with only “fine-tuning” left before the opening ceremony on February 7. “We are very optimistic,” he said. “Sochi will be ready.”
Rogge was more cautious about the buildup for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which have been dogged by various construction delays.
“It’s evident that there are very tight deadlines which will have to be respected,” he said. “There is a lot of infrastructure where the construction has to be speeded up. I’m optimistic that everything will be ready for the test events, but the time is going very fast.”