Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko says the controversy over his country’s anti-gay propaganda law is “an invented problem” by Western media.
The new legislation, which makes it illegal to give under-18s information about homosexuality, has led to calls for a boycott of next year’s Winter Olympics in Russia.
Debate over the law, which was introduced in June, has intensified during the World Athletics Championships in Moscow.
But Mr Mutko, who is chairman of the Moscow 2013 Organising Committee, told a press conference today the issue has been blown out of all proportion.
“I think this is kind of an invented problem,” he said. “We don’t have a law banning non-traditional sexual relations, we have a different law.
“It is the informational protection of the young generation. We want to prevent the young generation, whose psyche has not been formulated.
“We want to protect them against drunkenness, drugs and non-traditional sexual relations. We want them to grow up and when they become adults they have to define what they want.”
The news came as two female Russian athletes kissed on the winner’s podium at the World Athletics Championships yesterday – sparking a huge debate on Twitter and other media about whether it was in protest at the government’s anti-gay law.
But sources in the Russian camp claimed Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firova – who had just won gold in the 4×400 metres relay – were just exchanging a congratulatory kiss and there was no political message involved.
On Friday, Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva claimed she was “misunderstood” when she apparently spoke out in support of her country’s controversial new laws on homosexuality.
Isinbayeva, 31, made her comments after other athletes made statements and gestures – including painting their nails in rainbow colours – opposing the Russian law.
“It’s disrespectful to our country, disrespectful to our citizens because we are Russians,” Isinbayeva told a news conference – in English – after Swedish athlete high jumper Emma Green-Tregaro criticised the law.
“Maybe we are different than European people and people from different lands.”
However, a day later, Isinbayeva suggested she was misunderstood because English is not her first language.
“What I wanted to say was that people should respect the laws of other countries particularly when they are guests,” she said in a statement.
“But let me make it clear I respect the views of my fellow athletes, and let me state in the strongest terms that I am opposed to any discrimination against gay people on the grounds of their sexuality (which is against the Olympic charter).”
Opponents of the law have called on the International Olympic Committee to remove Isinbayeva from her role as an ambassador for the Youth Olympics.
The double Olympic gold medallist is also due to be the mayor of the main athletes’ village at the Sochi Games.
US runner Nick Symmonds became the first international athlete to stand against the laws, dedicating his world 800m silver medal to his gay and lesbian friends.
The Russian authorities have said all athletes will be free and safe to compete at Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation, but must obey Russian law.
Foreigners found guilty of violating the law can be fined up to 5,000 rubles (around £100) and face administrative arrest of up to 15 days and eventual deportation.
Broadcaster Stephen Fry has led growing calls for a boycott of the event, comparing President Vladimir Putin’s treatment of gay people to Adolf Hitler’s treatment of Jews.
He said allowing the Games to go ahead in Russia would be comparable to the decision to hold the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.
:: In Italy, a local politician has been forced to resign for saying Yelena Isinbayeva “should be taken and raped in a square” after she appeared to back Russia’s anti-gay legislation.
Gianluigi Piras, who served in a small municipality in Sardinia, apologised for his Facebook comments, saying he only meant them as a “paradox”.