MOSCOW: Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin praised “hockey diplomacy” as he scored nine goals in a game with his allies and Russian stars but fell on his face after the match.
“It brings people closer,” Putin told reporters during the hockey match, in footage broadcast on television Sunday evening. “This always helps.”
Wearing his traditional No 11 jersey, the Russian president on Friday (May 10) took to the ice for an exhibition game at the Bolshoi Ice Arena in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
The sports-mad 66-year-old leader, who has done a lot to promote a healthy lifestyle in Russia, said hockey was outside of politics and helped foster ties between statesmen.
In the past, the Kremlin chief took to the ice with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and often plays with Belarusian hockey-crazed strongman Alexander Lukashenko.
Putin said he could not even stand on ice several years ago and learned to skate by clutching a chair.
Skating alongside Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russian hockey stars such as Pavel Bure and Slava Fetisov, Putin scored nine goals, leading his team to a 14-7 win in the gala match of the Night Hockey League, the Kremlin said.
The opposing side was made up of prominent amateurs including Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire Putin associate who is under US sanctions.
After the match Putin took a victory lap to greet the cheering crowd but fell on his face after apparently tripping over a red carpet on the ice rink.
Two of his teammates rushed to help the president but Putin quickly stood up without assistance.
The Kremlin made no mention of Putin’s fall but video footage showing the mishap went viral on social media and unleashed a frenzy.
“It was not a fall. It was a negative ascent,” quipped one Twitter user, making fun of Kremlin’s whitewashing attempts.
“The hockey gates that captured the president’s goals have been nominated for the post of Saratov governor,” tweeted prominent anti-Kremlin blogger StalinGulag.