A Russian gymnast caused a stir on Saturday after wearing a pro-Russian military symbol at a major sporting event and then while standing on the medal podium next to a competitor from Ukraine.
Ivan Kuliak, 20, won bronze on parallel bars at the International Gymnastics Federation Artistic World Cup in Doha, Qatar on Saturday. Throughout his appearance at the event, a white “Z” made out of duct tape could be seen on his uniform, according to Inside the Games. The symbol is similar to that spray-painted on Russian equipment and vehicles in Ukraine to differentiate them.
The symbol was interpreted by some as a show of Kuliak’s support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to sports journalist Rick Westhead.
Kuliak’s display was particularly remarkable given that he competed against a Ukrainian athlete, 18-year-old Kovtun Illia, and even stood alongside him during the medal ceremony. Illia won the parallel bars event, while Kulak placed third and Kazahkstan’s Karimi Milad second.
The competition was the last for Kuliak and other gymnasts from Belarus and Russia. From March 7, they are banned from participating in International Gymnastics Federation events due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Belarus’ support for the military operation. The ban on the federation follows similar measures taken in response to the invasion of Ukraine by the International Olympic Committee and FIFA.
During Saturday’s competition, Kuliak wore a neutral uniform as the Russian flag is banned from appearing in international competition while the nation imposes punishment linked to a state-sponsored doping program. The “Z” symbol was plastered on Kuliak’s chest during the competition, where a nation’s flag would traditionally go.
In response to Kuliak’s seemingly pro-invasion display, the International Gymnastics Federation confirmed on Sunday that it had requested an investigation from the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation with a punishment potentially to follow, according to a statement sent to Sky Sports UK. United.
Newsweek contacted the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation for comment on this story, but did not hear back before publication.
In response to Kuliak’s gesture, Ukrainian gymnast Oleg Verniaiev took to Instagram to object.
“Of course, you’ll excuse me, but don’t let the Russians shout that sport is out of politics!” Verniaiev wrote. “Congratulations to our guy [Illia]everything is in its place glory to Ukraine.”
In contrast, earlier in the week, Russian two-time Olympic gold medalist Svetlana Khorkina shared a similar “Z” symbol in a post alongside a pro-Russia message.
“A campaign for those who are not ashamed to be Russian,” wrote Khorkina.