Ivan Kuliak appeared at an event in Qatar in March with the symbol strapped to his chest
Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak has been hit with a one-year ban for appearing on the podium with a ‘Z’ symbol attached to his leotard at an event in Qatar earlier this year.
Announcing the move, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) said Kuliak would also be stripped of the bronze medal he won at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha.
Kuliak will be fined 500 Swiss francs (about $500) and will have to pay 2,000 Swiss francs for the costs of proceedings in his case.
The ban means Kuliak, 20, will not be able to compete in any FIG-sanctioned events or competitions run by affiliated member federations.
Russian and Belarusian athletes are currently banned from all FIG events indefinitely due to the conflict in Ukraine.
The FIG said that while these measures were still in effect on May 17, 2023, Kuliak’s ban would continue and not expire until six months after the sanctions were lifted.
Kuliak will have 21 days to appeal the decision – a step the Russian Gymnastics Federation said it would not rule out once it studies the full text of the Foundation Disciplinary Commission’s decision. of Gymnastics Ethics (GEF).
Although Kuliak was punished, the FIG announced that Russian coaches Valentina Rodionenko and Igor Kalabushkin – who also attended the event in Doha – had been cleared of any violation.
The scandal erupted when Kuliak won bronze in the parallel bars final of the Apparatus World Cup in March, in a competition won by Ukraine’s Illia Kovtun.
Kuliak appeared for the medal ceremony with a “Z” attached to his uniform – a symbol used by Russian troops in Ukraine and which was displayed as a show of support for the armed forces by the Russian population.
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Explaining the gesture in a later interview with RT, Kuliak cited the behavior of his Ukrainian rivals during the competition.
“During the performances, they were shouting ‘Glory to Ukraine!‘ or standing on the podium wrapped in the national flag when we were considered neutral athletes, and because of that we felt uncomfortable.
“Mostly it was frustrating because they demanded that we be removed from the [tournament] even though we haven’t done anything wrong to anyone…
“If there was a second chance and I had to choose whether to date ‘Z’ on my chest again or not, I would do the exact same thing,”Kuliak added.
“I saw it with our military and looked up what that symbol meant. It turned out [it means]”for victory” and “for peace”.
“I didn’t wish anything bad on anyone, I just showed [what] my position [was]. As an athlete, I will always fight for victory and defend peace.
Gymnastics official Rodionenko, head of the Russian delegation in Doha, also blamed Ukrainian athletes for causing the situation.
“I want to say that I have never experienced such humiliation in my entire coaching career,”the veteran coach said in comments shortly after the argument.
“In Qatar, they didn’t humiliate us, they humiliated our country…I approached the FIG representative and asked why the Ukrainians were behaving like that, to which he replied that he couldn’t do anything about it.”
Responding to the news of the ban, Rodionenko said Kuliak would not quit the sport.
“The year will pass quickly. Our task now is to prepare a new program, to train. Ivan is a brave guy, he understands this situation.
“Everything will be fine, this situation will not break him, he will come back”said the coach.
Kuliak declined to comment on his one-year ban when contacted by Russian broadcaster Match TV.