The chief of Russia’s 2018 World Cup organising committee, Alexey Sorokin, has defended his country’s new anti-gay laws in an interview with World Football Insider.
A ruling introduced by President Vladimir Putin in June has banned any “pro-gay” propaganda and has sparked global outrage amongst human rights activists, with some advocating a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Sochi later this year. The legislation has also been criticised by the International Olympic Committee and US President Barack Obama.
The law, which prohibits any discussion or displays of "non-traditional" relationships around minors, also bans symbols such as the rainbow flag and has already caused controversy ahead of preparations for the 2014 Games and the football's biggest international tournament four years later.
With Sorokin believing the new legislation -- under the any athlete or spectator who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender could be susceptible to a 15-day jail term or face being deported from the country for being "pro-gay" -- has been "largely misinterpreted".
Speaking an interview with World Football Insider, the CEO of the Russia 2018 organising committee said: "It is designed against active propaganda of homosexuality, not against homosexuality itself. That is a big difference.
"Would you like a World Cup where naked people are running around displaying their homosexuality? The answer to that is quite obvious."
"The Olympics and World Cup are not a stage for various views... not for Nazis, not for any other ways of life. It should be about football and nothing else."
Given assurances from high-level officials in the Russian Government, Sorokin added fans and spectators would be fine "unless someone intends to be actively involved in the propaganda of this".
"They have nothing more to fear. They have guarantees and assurances that they will not be affected," he said. "The minister of sport [Vitaly Mutko] has given a full and detailed explanation. It would be strange to see someone choose such an event as the Olympic Games as a stage to propagate these ideas. We suppose people come to participate or to watch and be part of it not to display their views. Private life should remain private."
Sorokin also revealed that there had been no pressure from FIFA to clarify the implementation of the law ahead of the 2018 World Cup. Asked in June to give his opinion on 2022 hosts Qatar’s stance towards homosexuality, FIFA president Sepp Blatter described the situation as an issue of "ethics and morals".
"What you are speaking about, I do not think it is part of racism, perhaps this is going into ethics and morals," Blatter told the BBC at the time. "This, I think, is not the time being to bring it now. If you bring it to my attention then I should have a look on that. But I cannot give you a definite answer."
The 77-year-old has already received strong criticism on the issue. Asked in December 2010 to give advice to gay fans wishing to attend the tournament he said: "I'd say they should refrain from any sexual activities."
He later apologised for his comments by saying: "If somebody feels hurt, then I regret [it] and present apologies."