IAAF deputy general secretary Nick Davies said it would be good for the Russian government to see people with "alternative lifestyles, and this may serve as an impetus for them to reconsider their views instead of just living in an isolated society."
At the same time, Davies insisted the world championships should take on the credo of the Olympics and not raise political issues during their events. The athletics worlds start in Moscow Saturday.
Russia recently introduced a law that bans so-called "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" and imposes fines on those holding gay pride rallies.
There has been a groundswell of protest and unease outside Russia about the issue, especially after the country's sports minister said last week that the law would be enforced during the Feb 7-23 Sochi Games — appearing to contradict assurances to the contrary from the IOC.
On Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama also criticized the law cracking down on gay rights activism, saying he has "no patience for countries that try to treat gays and lesbians and transgendered persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them."
Davies said in a statement that, as an international organization, "we have to respect the laws of the land," whether it likes the laws or not. "The IAAF cannot control or modify this."
He did insist that the IAAF's charter is clearly opposed to any discrimination against sex, religion or gender.
"It is simply not a problem in our sport," he said. At the moment, there are no prominent openly-gay athletes in the sport.
During the Aug. 10-18 championships in Moscow, 1967 athletes from 205 countries will compete in one of the biggest sports events of the year.