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18 May, 2022 08:10

Russian gymnast handed one-year ban for ‘Z’ display

Ivan Kuliak appeared at an event in Qatar in March with the symbol attached to his chest
Russian gymnast handed one-year ban for ‘Z’ display

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 decision, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) said Kuliak would also be stripped of the bronze medal he won at the Apparatus World Cup event in Doha.

Kuliak will be fined 500 Swiss francs (around $500) and will have to pay 2,000 Swiss francs towards the costs of the proceedings in his case.

The ban means Kuliak, 20, will be barred from competing in any event sanctioned by the FIG or competitions organized by affiliated member federations.

Russian and Belarusian athletes are currently banned from all FIG events for an indefinite period due to the conflict in Ukraine.

The FIG said that if those measures were still in force on May 17, 2023, then Kuliak’s ban would continue and only expire six months after the removal of the sanctions.

Kuliak will have 21 days to appeal the decision – a step which the Russian Gymnastics Federation has said it would not rule out once it has studied the entire text of the ruling by the Disciplinary Commission of the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF).

Although Kuliak was punished, the FIG announced that Russian coaches Valentina Rodionenko and Igor Kalabushkin – who were also at the event in Doha – had been cleared of any violations.

The scandal emerged when Kuliak claimed bronze in the parallel bars final of the Apparatus World Cup in March, in a competition which was 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 has been displayed as a show of support for the armed forces by the Russian population.  

Explaining the gesture in a subsequent interview with RT, Kuliak cited the behavior of his Ukrainian rivals at the competition.

“During performances they would shout Glory to Ukraine! or go out on the podium wrapped in the national flag while we were considered neutral athletes, and because of this we felt uncomfortable.

“Most of it all, it was frustrating because they asked for us to be removed from the [tournament] although we did nothing wrong to anyone… 

“If there was a second chance and I would again have to choose whether to go out with the letter ‘Z’ on my chest or not, I would do exactly the same,” Kuliak added.

“I saw it with our military and looked at what this symbol means. 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 stand for peace.”

Gymnastics official Rodionenko, the head of the Russian delegation in Doha, also accused the Ukrainian athletes of provoking the situation.

“I want to say that I’ve never experienced such humiliation in my entire coaching career,” said the veteran trainer in comments shortly after the row.

“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.”

Responding to the news of the ban, Rodionenko said Kuliak would not walk away from 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 return,” said the coach.

Kuliak declined to comment on his one-year ban when contacted by RT.