President Vladimir Putin promised Monday that gay and lesbian athletes and guests at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in February will feel at ease despite Russia's new "homosexual propaganda" ban.
"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 told visiting International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach in remarks broadcast on Russian television.
Russia's adoption in June of a controversial law that prohibits the dissemination of information about homosexuality to minors has sparked protests from international rights groups and calls for a boycott of the country's first post-Soviet Olympic event.
The scandal has already cast a pall over an event closely associated with the powerful Russian leader's image and dubbed by some media as the "Putin Games".
Russian businesses and the government have already spent a record $50 billion on preparations aimed at turning Sochi -- a leafy Soviet-era summer resort on the Black Sea -- into a global magnet for winter activities.
Putin declared Monday that "the objective associated with building Olympic facilities has been met."
(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sportsand on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports)