The mayor of Sochi has claimed that the host city of the Winter Olympics has no gay residents, but that homosexuals would be welcomed to attend the games.
In an interview with the BBC, Anatoly Pakhomov — member of President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party — said that the city extended its hospitality to all. However he added that gay men and women should not "impose their habits on others."
As to the number of homosexuals currently living in Sochi, Pakhomov said: “we do not have them in our city.” Challenged by a reporter of the BBC’s Panorama program — who had visited gay bar in Sochi the night before the interview — the mayor responded: "I am not sure, but I don't bloody know them."
The comments come as the issue of gay rights in Russia look set to loom large during the winter games.
Last week, Putin defended a controversial law passed last summer banning the spread of "propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientations" among minors.
Putin said the law is meant to protect children from exposure to nontraditional relationships and that no one at the Games would be targeted under the law, adding that homosexual visitors to Sochi could be “relaxed and calm." He added, “But please, leave the children alone."
Such comments have sparked a wave of protests from participating nations with a more progressive stance on gay rights.
President Barack Obama last month appointed two openly gay athletes to his delegation to the Sochi Olympics, widely interpreted as a pointed message to Putin.
The latest comments by Pakhomov regarding the number of gay residents in the host city were met with scorn.
Russian opposition leader and former Deputy Minister Boris Nemtsov told the BBC that the mayor's claim was laughable. "As far as I know there are several gay clubs in Sochi."