The Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak has been handed a one-year ban for wearing the letter "Z" supporting Russia's invasion of Ukraine during an event in Qatar in March, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has confirmed.
The 20-year-old, who won bronze in the parallel bars at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha, displayed the letter as he stood on the podium next to the Ukrainian gold medallist Illia Kovtun.
Ivan Kuliak finished third in the parallel bars final, behind Ukraine’s Illia Kovtun. The Russian gymnast had a ‘Z’ taped across the front of his shirt which is a victory symbol seen on tanks taking part in the Ukraine invasion and also reportedly worn by Vladimir Putin’s supporters.
Russian forces have used the letter “Z” as an identifying symbol on their vehicles in Ukraine after the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”. Supporters of the invasion have also used the sign.
“Mr Kuliak breached the FIG statutes, the FIG code of discipline, the FIG code of ethics, the FIG code of conduct and the FIG technical regulations when he wore the letter ‘Z’ on his singlet,” the governing body said in a statement. “(He) is not allowed to participate in any FIG-sanctioned event or competition organised by an affiliated FIG member federation for one year as of the date of this decision.”
Kuliak was unrepentant about the display and claimed that he would always stand for peace. “I saw it with our military and looked at what this symbol means. It turned out (it means) ‘for victory’ and ‘for peace’,” he added. “I didn’t wish anything bad on anyone, I just showed my position.”
Kuliak has also been stripped of his bronze medal and will have to return the prize money of 500 Swiss francs (£404). He has 21 days to appeal against the decision.
The FIG had already banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in future events. “If the protective measures keeping Russian athletes from competing are still in place on May 17th 2023, the ban shall continue and expire six months after the removal of said measure,” the FIG added.