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World Championships: US athlete wears gay pride symbol on her shoe

Erica Bougard Image copyright Getty Images/Oscar Fdez

Wearing shoes with the rainbow flag on them in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

That's what US athlete Erica Bougard did in the World Championships in Qatar.

She insists she wasn't making a political statement, and instead was just wearing her regular high-jump shoes.

"I honestly didn't think about it because it was already on my shoe," she said.

Image copyright Twitter/@gabyandersengz

Qatar - like neighbouring United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia - is a conservative Muslim nation where homosexual acts are illegal and punishable with up to three years in prison, according to Human Rights Watch.

Erica - a 26-year-old heptathlete from Tennessee - started dating her girlfriend a year ago. She says she's worn the shoes, with a rainbow flap across one foot, all season while competing in events around the world.

"I feel like we have a voice, us as athletes, because more people look at us to perform," the American told the Associated Press.

"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."

The last Olympics held in Rio in 2016 saw a record 56 publicly out LGBT athletes competing - the most ever for an Olympics - with a further 12 competing in the Paralympics, according to LGBT sports news website Outsports.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tom Bosworth proposed to his boyfriend at the 2016 Olympics in Rio

Have other athletes spoken out?

British race walker Tom Bosworth - who came out publicly in 2015 - has previously been critical of the anti-LGBT laws in Qatar.

Just before the championships he put out a statement saying he had "no intention to hide" who he is - adding he would respect Qatari law and make no political statements while he was competing.

Lord Sebastian Coe - the president of the International Athletics Federation - said he would not "gag the voices or the instincts of athletes".

And he defended the choice of Qatar as the host nation, saying it had the potential to effect positive social change.

"I've never known a situation where sport going into a fresh and new type of territory, hasn't actually flicked the dial both socially, culturally and politically in a very positive way," he added.

Image copyright Instagram/bougardd
Image caption Erica posted about her rainbow strapped shoes on her Instagram story

Erica says that she feels "well protected" and that she is "not afraid of the consequences".

If any action was to be taken against her, she says she would "be on the first flight out".

She is currently in fourth place going into the final day of the heptathlon - a track and field contest made up of seven events - with a medal on offer if she performs well in the remaining long jump, javelin and 800m run.

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