In a release from the International Triathlon Union, Javier Gomez of Spain wins, in front of Jonathan Brownlee of Great Britain, the Grand Final of the 2012 ITU World Triathlon Series on October 21, 2012 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Janos Schmidt/ITU via Getty)

The International Triathlon Union has reversed a ban on rainbow flags after gay athletes threatened to protest the rules.

The international sporting organisation, which is the governing body for triathlon events across the world, came under fire on January 19 after changing an existing rule banning athletes from “displaying any kind of demonstration of political, religious or racial propaganda” to also include a ban on displays of “sexual orientation.”

European triathlon champion Jack Bristow, who is gay and has often carried rainbow flags at events, was among triathletes who threatened to defy the new rule, which carried a possible penalty of disqualification.

In the face of the growing backlash, the International Triathlon Union has now backed down and reversed the decision.

International Triathlon Union will ‘immediately remove’ ban on rainbow flags

In a January 21 statement, the body claimed the dispute was a “misunderstanding,” adding that the words sexual orientation “will be immediately removed.”

The statement clarifies: “The ITU has always stood for equality, inclusion and respect, and would never knowingly take such a decision that would infringe on the rights and freedoms of people to express themselves and banning the display of rainbow flags.”

The International Triathlon Union added: “In light of the misunderstanding, ITU will immediately revisit the rule to ensure that individuals’ rights of expression continue to be embraced.

“ITU regrets that this interpretation of the updated rules could have affected any person.”

European triathlon champion Jack Bristow had threatened to defy the International Triathlon Union rules. (British Triathlon)

The statement continued: “It was never ITU’s intention that anyone could be hurt by this decision, one that was never intended to be taken against any group of individuals, no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation.

“ITU is proud to be an organisation that is absolutely inclusive from its inception, and will continue to be so in the future.”

Gay athletes had threatened to defy International Triathlon Union rules

Outsports, the outlet that broke the news of the ban, questioned the claim that the incident was a “misunderstanding,” noting that an ITU spokesperson and the British Triathlon group both initially confirmed the ban would apply to rainbow flags.

The ITU had initially defended the policy, claiming that the rule “is a similar wording that is included in many other sporting organisations.”

Gay triathlete Jack Bristow, who launched a petition against the ban, told Outsports: “I’ve flown a rainbow flag at a race before because I’m proud to be a gay athlete and I want to be a visible example so that other LGBT people feel like they can get involved.

“To have my pride equated with political extremism and to be told to go back in the closet for my own safety is insulting.”

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