Russian gymnast with ‘Z’ symbol faces long ban

Russian gymnast shows ‘Z’ symbol on podium next to Ukrainian winner

Gymnastics’ governing body has condemned the “shocking behaviour” of the Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak, who now faces a lengthy ban for wearing a symbol in support of the invasion of Ukraine on the medal podium of a World Cup event.

After winning bronze in the parallel bars final at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha, Kuliak taped the letter “Z” to the front of his outfit before standing next to the gold medallist, Illia Kovtun of Ukraine, for the national anthems.

The “Z” is regarded as particularly incendiary given it has been seen daubed on Russian tanks and vehicles in Ukraine and has come to symbolise support for president Vladimir Putin and the invasion.

According to Theguardian, Kuliak, 20, was unable to wear the Russian flag as it had already been banned by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG).

In a statement, the FIG said it would ask the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation to open disciplinary proceedings against Kuliak “following his shocking behaviour”.

Meanwhile, the former world championship chess challenger Sergey Karjakin has been banned from a number of prestigious tournaments, including the Grand Chess tour, following several outspoken comments backing the invasion.

As of Monday all Russian and Belarusian gymnasts, officials and judges were suspended from all future FIG-sanctioned competitions. In taking its decision, the FIG said it took in account the latest recommendations from the IOC, the stance of its athletes’ commission and the “deep concerns” and positions expressed by many national gymnastics federations.

Russia’s invasion has been condemned around the world, sent more than 1.5 million Ukrainians fleeing abroad, and triggered sweeping Western-led sanctions aimed at crippling the Russian economy. On Sunday eight civilians were killed outside the capital Kyiv when Russian forces shelled a bridge as they were trying to flee to safety.

When asked about the sort of potential sanctions the Russian could face, the FIG referred the Guardian to article 42.3 of its 2022 statutes regarding “the disciplinary measures which can be imposed amongst others on a Federation, on a legal entity or on an individual”.

Such measures include “the cancellation of results of a competition”, which leaves open the possibility that Kuliak could lose his bronze medal, and “the proscription to take part in the FIG events and other international events for one given or unspecified duration” – in other words, a potential lengthy ban.

Kuliak’s comments were immediately criticised by Ukraine’s 2016 Olympic parallel bars champion Oleg Verniaiev, who wrote on Instagram: “Of course, you will excuse me, but let the Russians not shout that sport is out of politics! Congratulations to our guy, everything is in its place, glory to Ukraine.”

Kuliak is not the first Russian gymnast to publicly support Putin’s war in Ukraine. Last week Svetlana Khorkina, who won seven Olympic medals between 1996 and 2004, shared the “Z” symbol online with the caption: “A campaign for those who are not ashamed to be Russian.”


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