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Russian athletes’ kiss a congratulatory gesture or political statement?

Reaction to Russia’s anti-gay laws continues to haunt World Athletics Championships

Russian athletes kiss on the podium after their 4x40-metre relay win. Credit: eurosport.fr

A kiss shared by two female Russian athletes has sparked media speculation over whether the action was done in protest against their country’s anti-gay laws or just a typical gesture of congratulations and friendship.

While media organizations like Pink News and The Huffington Post ran headlines that characterized the kiss between 4×400 relay gold medallists Ksenia Ryzhova and Yulia Guschina as a protest, other headlines were more cautious about labelling the athletes' podium smooch as a definitive act of activism at the World Athletics Championships being held in Russia.

According to Sky News, word coming out of the Russian camp casts the kiss between Ryzhova and Guschina as a celebratory one and not meant to send a political message.

Over the past week, the track-and-field triumphs at the championships have competed with the controversy over Russia’s anti-gay laws for headlines as some athletes have chosen to make statements, whether verbal or through gestures, in support of gays and lesbians.

Russian gold medal pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva weighed in on the issue, criticizing Swedish athletes for painting their nails in rainbow colours in protest against the laws, saying they were wrong to make such gestures while competing on Russian soil. Isinbayeva also defended the law prohibiting propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations, at one point saying, "We consider ourselves like normal, standard people, we just live boys with women, girls with boys . . . it comes from the history."

Backlash against Isinbayeva’s comments was swift, coming from sports pundits and athletes alike. Isinbayeva, who is a popular figure in her home country, is to serve as a Sochi Games mayor and is an ambassador for the Youth Olympics.

In a statement released by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Isinbayeva subsequently sought to clarify her stance, saying English is not her first language and her remarks have been misconstrued.

"What I wanted to say was that people should respect the laws of other countries, particularly when they are guests,” she says. "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]."

Meanwhile, Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro, who had painted her nails in rainbow colours, triggering Isinbayeva’s objections, was told by her country’s sports federation that she could be in violation of the competition’s code of conduct and to change her nail colour, ESPN reports.

"So I decided to paint them red instead, for love," Green Tregaro says.

She added, "I'm surprised by the big reactions, but I'm happy about the big reaction because it's mostly been very positive."