February 6, 2014 / 2:38 PM / 5 years ago

Sochi Games protest? Russian snowboarder not saying

Russia's Alexey Sobolev poses lying in the snow at the finish line during the men's slopestyle snowboarding qualifying session at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor February 6, 2014 . REUTERS/Mike Blake

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Have the Sochi Winter Olympics had their first political protest? If they have, the Russian snowboarder involved is not letting on.

Alexei Sobolev competed in the slopestyle event on Thursday with a symbol on his snowboard showing a figure with a ski mask and a knife.

Was it meant to look like a member of the Pussy Riot group that protested against President Vladimir Putin in a church in ski masks, short dresses and brightly colored tights?

“No comment at the moment,” Sobolev told Reuters.

“Yes, there is some resemblance with Pussy Riot symbols, but I had nothing to do with the design of this picture. Anyway I like this picture. It looks cool.”

Putin’s record on democracy and human rights is under scrutiny at the Games, and he has been heavily criticized abroad over a law banning the spread of “gay propaganda” among minors which opponents says discriminates against homosexuals.

Anger over the law has prompted speculation that there could be protests at the Games but competitors are banned by the International Olympic Committee from protesting during their events or on the medals podium.

After nearly two years behind bars, two members of Pussy Riot, an all-women’s group, were freed in December under an amnesty. Putin has dismissed suggestions the amnesty was merely intended to ease criticism of his human rights record before the start of the Games.

Reporting by Dmitriy Rogovitskiy, Writing by Timothy Heritage, editing by Ed Osmond

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