US heptathlete gay pride shoe flaps in Qatar

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              Erica Bougard, of the United States, clears the bar during the high jump in the women's heptathlon at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
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DOHA, Qatar (AP) — American heptathlete Erica Bougard says she wasn’t trying to make an international political statement against Qatar’s anti-LGBTQ policies. She was just wearing her favorite high jump shoes.

She has worn the shoes, with a rainbow flap across one foot to symbolize gay pride, all season. She didn’t consider how that would be taken in Qatar, a conservative Muslim nation, where homosexual acts are illegal.

By slipping on the high-jump shoes Wednesday night, she stepped into a touchy subject that organizers for the track world championships and the 2022 World Cup here have tried to avoid.

IAAF president Sebastian Coe ducked the issue when asked about anti-LGBTQ laws on the eve of the championships. Dahlan Al Hammad, the head of the local organizing committee, said Qatar would comply with international laws.

Bougard said she didn’t know all the background.

“But I’m not afraid of the consequences,” Bougard said. “I feel like I’m well protected.”

If anything does happen, “I’ll be on the first flight out.”

British race walker Tom Bosworth, who came out publicly in 2015 and proposed to his boyfriend at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, has been critical of the anti-LGBTQ laws in Qatar. He put out a statement last week saying he would respect the laws of the host country and make no political statements while he was there to compete. He races Friday.

Bougard started dating her girlfriend about a year ago and wants to be an advocate for people struggling with sexual identity.

“I feel like we have a voice, us as athletes, because more people look at us to perform,” said the 26-year-old who competed at Mississippi State. “It’s important because I feel like people hate people for loving who they love. Some people don’t believe in it, which is totally fine. I wanted to show my side and put the symbol on my shoe.”

Bougard wasn’t concerned about any sort of fallout after completing the first four of seven heptathlon events in a competition spread out over two days. In fourth place going into Day 2 on Thursday, she’s in striking distance of a medal as she trails teammate Kendell Williams by two points. The long jump, javelin and 800-meter run remain.

“Hopefully I do get a lot of praise (on social media),” Bougard said. “I hope I don’t get bashed a lot.”

She’s glad people took notice.

“I honestly didn’t think about it because it was already on my shoe,” she said. “I put the flag on my shoe and people noticed it, I guess.”