Sweden’s Ethiopian-born Abeba Aregawi won the women’s 1500m title with a time of 4min 02.67sec. The win by Aregawi, who was only cleared to run for Sweden in December 2012, six months after receiving Swedish citizenship, marked Sweden’s first World Athletics gold in six years.
However, news of Aregawi’s win was dwarfed by the actions of Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro and sprinter Moa Hjelmer, who made headlines and stirred up controversy after the painting their fingernails with the colours of the rainbow.
The move was a “silent protest” according to Hjelmer, who along with Green Tregaro wanted to show their disapproval for laws recently passed in Russia banning “gay propaganda”.
“We can’t choose where the championships are being held, but it is sad that they have these attitudes. It should be self-evident that everyone should have the same rights,” Hjelmer told Sveriges Radio (SR).
Green Tregaro, who first hatched plans for the rainbow nail protest in Moscow via social media on Wednesday, called the decision “the perfect opportunity to show what I think”.
“To me, love for another person is the most beautiful thing in the world, and that’s what I want to show, no matter the gender or whatever,” she told SR.
While the athletes won wide praise in Sweden, Russian pole vaulting gold medalist Yelena Isinbayeva slammed the Swedes’ colourful jab at Russia’s anti-gay laws.
“It’s unrespectful to our country, it’s unrespectful to our citizens. Because we are Russians, maybe we are different from European people, maybe we are different to people from other lands, but we have our laws that everyone has to respect,” she told reporters on Thursday.
Swedish gold medalist Aregawi also refused to lend her support to her follow athletes’ show of support for gay rights.
“Personally, because my faith doesn’t allow it, I don’t support it,” she told reporters at a press conference.
She clarified later for the Expressen newspaper through an interpreter that her religion doesn’t allow “men to be with men and women to be with women”.
According to Expressen, a spokesman for the Swedish athletics association later asked Swedish journalists to refrain from publishing Aregawi’s quotes because she didn’t realize how controversial they were.
The head of the Swedish athletics association, Tomas Riste, nevertheless regretted that Aregawi and Green Tregaro didn’t see eye to eye on the issue.
“It’s unfortunate that members of the national team are against each other,” he told Expressen.
“We live in a multicultural society with different opinions and freedom of religion. I’m not bothered by one or the other.”