Russia has said that rainbow flags will be tolerated at the World Cup, despite a "gay propaganda law" that bans the "promotion" of homosexuality to under-18s.

Former Chelsea midfielder and Russian World Cup ambassador Alexei Smertin said on Thursday (30 November) that football spectators will not be affected by the law and are allowed to wear rainbow symbols.

"There will definitely be no ban on wearing rainbow symbols in Russia. It's clear you can come here and not be fined for expressing feelings," he said at a news conference in Moscow to discuss race and discrimination issues in football.

He added that football spectators were unlikely to break the "gay propaganda law", which bans schools from teaching children about homosexuality.

"The law is about propaganda to minors ... I can't imagine that anyone is going to go into a school and speak," Smertin said.

During an interview with director Oliver Stone in June, Vladimir Putin said that the law was intended to "provide children with the opportunity to grow up without impacting their consciousness".

He insisted that the freedom of LGBT people in Russia was not restricted in any way.

Earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the law is discriminatory and encourages homophobia.

Although homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, human rights activists say that prejudice against the LGBT community still runs deep.

Since the law was introduced in 2013, violence against the LGBT community has intensified in Russia, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Russian authorities have banned gay pride events and discussions about homosexuality in public places where children might be present.

Tanya Lokshina, HRW Russia director, told IBTimes UK at the time of the ECHR ruling that anti-LGBT vigilante groups were starting to emerge. These groups lure gay men on the pretext of a fake date and then hold them against their will, beating and humiliating them by videotaping their meeting and sharing it online.

Smertin's comments were welcomed by the FARE network, which advises FIFA on discrimination issues.

"He's giving some reassurances and I think in the end that's all that people want," FARE executive director Piara Powar told The Associated Press. "People want to know that they can come here safely, that they will be protected, that they are wanted."