Tuesday 29 October 2013 - 09:08
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that gay and lesbian athletes have nothing to fear at next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, insisting that gay athletes - and supporters - should feel at ease.
Russia has been criticised over a new law banning "homosexual propaganda" towards people under 18.
Under this new homosexual propaganda law, passed earlier this year, private individuals promoting "non-traditional sexual relations" to minors face fines of up to 5,000 roubles (€113.74) while officials risk paying 10 times that amount. Businesses and schools could be fined up to 500,000 roubles.
Activists in the West have been outraged at the measures, calling on athletes and countries to boycott the Games.
Gay bars in New York, London and elsewhere have boycotted Russian vodka.
There was even some suggestion that gay visitors might face prosecution in Russia, but Putin said that this will not happen.
"We will do everything to make sure that athletes, fans and guests feel comfortable at the Olympic Games regardless of their ethnicity, race or sexual orientation," Putin said.
However, gay rights groups have accused the International Olympic Committee of not putting enough pressure on Russia, which has invested more in its Games than any previous Olympic host.
During a visit, the Head of the Committee, Thomas Bach, made no public mention of the new law, focusing instead on Russia's preparations for the Olympics.
"We are fully confident that the Games will be on a magnificent level," he said.
For many in Russia, where homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993, the law is much less controversial.
A recent poll found that nearly half of Russians believe that the gay and lesbian community should not enjoy the same rights as other citizens.