Russian ‘Z’ symbol gymnast speaks out over fears of lengthy ban
Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak insists he should not be banned for his show of support for his country’s armed forces at a recent competition, with the young star’s coach saying she is braced for a lengthy suspension.
Kuliak appeared on the podium at a World Cup event in Doha earlier this month with a ‘Z’ sign attached to his leotard. The 20-year-old year later explained he had taken the step because of what he described as “unacceptable” behavior from Ukrainian rivals, whom he accused of “greatly escalating” the atmosphere at the competition.
Kuliak later told RT that he displayed the ‘Z’ sign – which has been added to Russian military vehicles and equipment during the operation in Ukraine – because the symbol is “for victory and for peace,” and that he would not hesitate to make the gesture again.
The Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) has opened a disciplinary case against Kuliak, with Russian head coach Valentina Rodionenko fearing at least a one-year ban for the star.
Facing that prospect, Kuliak has reiterated that, in his mind, he was not in the wrong.
“In general, I consider the decision to [potentially] suspend me unfair,” said the gymnast, according to Life.ru.
“I didn’t do anything illegal, I didn’t break any rules, and now they want to ban me. In all this you can see the attitude towards our country.”
Russian head coach Rodionenko likewise said any ban would be unjust, explaining that she and fellow trainer Igor Kalabushkin could also be sanctioned, and accusing the Ukrainian delegation in Doha of inciting antagonism.
“The international federation made this decision under pressure from the Ukrainians, and some of them even advocated our lifelong disqualification,” Rodionenko told TASS.
“Lawyers are working with us now who hope they’ll save us, but personally I doubt this outcome of the case. The decision should be made at the end of March.”
The veteran trainer said Kuliak could be stripped of the bronze medal he won as well as any prize money, with both herself and Kalabushkin potentially being fined.
“Ukrainian athletes in Doha violated all the rules of the competition, they went to the platform wrapped in their national flag, refused to participate in award ceremonies if our girls took part in them,” she added.
“I want to say that I’ve never experienced such humiliation in my entire coaching career. I didn’t experience anything like that even after our boycott of the Olympic Games in the USA in 1984.
“In Qatar, they didn’t humiliate us, they humiliated our country… I approached the FIG representative and asked why the Ukrainians behaved like that, to which he replied that he could do nothing about it.”
The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) announced on March 6 that it had charged the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation with opening proceedings against Kuliak, accusing him of “shocking behavior.”
The FIG previously said it would follow International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommendations and ban all Russian and Belarusian athletes from its events, starting from March 7 and “until further notice.”