Athlete insists she wasn’t trying to make a political statement by wearing Pride shoes in Qatar

American heptathlete Erica Bougard says the rainbow trainers she wore for the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Qatar weren’t a political statement – she really just likes the shoes.

The US athlete, who is dating a woman, will be competing in seven heptathlon events over two days. She has proudly worn the colourful shoes all season and the Qatar championships were no exception.

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

Homosexuality is illegal in the conservative Muslim nation and punishable by up to seven years in prison. LGBT+ people can also be put to death under Sharia law, although there are no known cases where the death penalty has been enforced.

Erica Bougard competes in the Women’s Heptathlon High Jump in Doha, Qatar. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

“But I’m not afraid of the consequences,” Bougard told Time. “I feel like I’m well protected,” she said, adding that if anything does happen, “I’ll be on the first flight out.”

Qatar’s strong anti-LGBT+ rights record has been a touchy subject since the country was announced as the host for the 2022 football World Cup.

Gay fans have been assured that they will be safe and welcome in Qatar, as long as they don’t have sex.

When asked about this last week, IAAF president Sebastian Coe reportedly ducked the question, instead suggesting that the sporting event “can shine a spotlight on all sorts of issues that not even the media want to tackle”.

Erica Bougard after Women’s Heptathlon 100 metres hurdles in Doha, Qatar (Christian Petersen/Getty)

But Bougard refuses to be subtle about her support for LGBT+ rights, and ensured her shoes were on full display as she cleared the 1.86m high jump on the first day of the championships.

“I feel like we have a voice, us as athletes, because more people look at us to perform,” she said.

“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.”

Erica Bougard is now in striking distance of a medal as she prepares for the long jump, javelin and 800-metre run.