Moscow • Urging critics of Russia's new anti-gay law to "calm down," the country's sports minister said Thursday that the rights of all athletes competing at next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi will be respected.
Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko did insist that athletes would "have to respect the laws of the country" during the Feb. 7-23 games in the Black Sea resort in southern Russia.
The law, signed by President Vladimir Putin in June, bans "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" and imposes fines on those holding gay pride rallies.
Mutko said "the athletes can come and compete" and the chase for medals should be their primary concern.
"This is a sports forum," he said. "This is a sports festival and we have to talk only about it."
Mutko raised concern last week among gay rights advocates with comments that the law would be enforced during the Sochi Games.
On Thursday, he insisted that, beyond the law, Russia has "a constitution that guarantees to all citizens rights for the private life and privacy."
"Rest assured that all the athletes and all the sports organizations should be relaxed," he said.
Mutko said the issue had been blown out of proportion by a groundswell of protest and unease outside Russia.
"I want to ask you to calm down," he said.
Mutko spoke at a news conference two days before the opening of the track and field world championships in Moscow.
The International Association of Athletics Federations has urged Russia to reconsider its views on gay rights, but the head of track and field's ruling body said Thursday the federation did not want to raise political issues about the law.
"I don't have the feeling there is a problem whatsoever," IAAF President Lamine Diack said. "There is a law that exists. The law has to be respected. Some things have to be respected. We are here for the world championships."