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Putin plays ice hockey in first all-star event since pandemic

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(Changes goal number, reported by Interfax as 9, to 8)

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin scored several goals in a game of ice hockey on Monday, appearing in an amateur league for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Putin, who was vaccinated against COVID-19 over a month ago, said earlier on Monday that he had tested his levels of protective antibodies, generated by vaccination, the previous day and had seen strong results.

Wearing full ice hockey kit and a #11 shirt, Putin played in front of an audience gathered for the indoor gala event organised by the amateur Night Hockey League in the southern city of Sochi.

Set up in 2011, the league brings together former ice hockey stars, businessmen and Russian politicians. Putin occasionally joins in for all-star events. The last time Putin played was in Dec. 2019, when he scored eight goals.

Participants in the event on Monday included Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Moscow region governor Andrei Vorobyev, as well as some retired Russian ice hockey stars, the TASS news agency reported.

Putin, a judo black belt who has often showed off his sporting prowess, was seen hugging and fist-pumping players and handing out awards on the ice — marking a change from many socially-distanced appearances during the pandemic.

Monday’s game ended with a 13 to 9 win for Putin’s side, with the president scoring nine goals, Interfax news reported.

Putin said earlier that 21.5 million Russians – about 15% of the population – had now been vaccinated against COVID-19 and urged all to follow suit.

“We need to actively continue getting tested (for coronavirus) and getting vaccinated,” he said in comments posted on the Kremlin website. He added that the number of daily cases was holding steady.

Russia reported 8,465 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours on Monday, taking the national tally to 4,888,727.

(Reporting by Polina Ivanova, editing by Estelle Shirbon)

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