Ten multicolored painted fingernails. That is what it took to stir up a heated debate during this week’s World Championships in Moscow. Swedish high jumper Emma Green-Tregaro choose to paint her fingernails in the colors of the rainbow flag for Thursday’s qualifying competition, as a sign of support for gays and lesbians. In return, Green-Tregaro’s statement nails were met by immediate critique by Russian colleague Yelena Isinbayeva, who spoke out against homosexuality as a non-Russian thing. “We are very afraid about our nation because we consider ourselves normal, standard people,” Isinbayeva explained.
Speculations of potential consequences if the Swedish high jumper would not remover her nail polish were many. The Swedish Athletic Association claims to have felt pressured by the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federation), fearing repercussions such as fines and disqualification. The IAAF on the other hand, claims they left it up to the Swedish Athletic Association to decide for themselves how to handle the situation. The result was that for the finals Green-Tregaro was sporting red nails instead, as a symbol of love.
The Championships was surrounded by controversy long before it started, as a number of competing countries reacted against Russia’s new anti-gay legislation. Public debates in Sweden and several other countries concerned whether to boycott or not. However, the view of Isinbayeva that the sport arena is not a place for politics appears to be shared by far too many. But a national sports competition can never be apolitical. In a blog post earlier this year I wrote of some of the political issues of dressing the Olympics that surfaced during the London summer games 2012. That time the debates mainly revolved around country-of-origin of some nations Olympic uniforms (Sweden included). These examples show the power of clothing and bodily practices, even in the smallest things like painted fingernails.
There are many things to comment on in relation to this. One is that the message of the rainbow flag not only concerns gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual persons – but everyone who believes in equal rights regardless of sexual orientation. Bringing out the bottle of nail polish removal is a political action as well. What is especially bothering is that Russian media has been silent of the whole debate, treating it as a non-issue. Sweden can afford to do better, to step up –not to step down. A sound body and a sound mind shines with its absence in the Moscow World Championships a little too much. For me personally, the little interest I had in watching sports disappeared somewhere between cases of doping and narrow-mindedness and oppression.