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16 Aug, 2022 08:46

Russian ‘Z’ gymnast awaits appeal decision

Ivan Kuliak was banned for one year after taking to the podium with a ‘Z’ symbol on his leotard
Russian ‘Z’ gymnast awaits appeal decision

Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak can expect to learn in mid-September whether his appeal against a one-year ban has been successful, an official has said. Kuliak is protesting the suspension he was handed after appearing on the podium of a World Cup event with a ‘Z’ symbol attached to his leotard.

The Appeals Tribunal of the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) held hearings on the case this week, where Kuliak and the president of the Russian Artistic Gymnastics Federation, Vasily Titov, were allowed to present their arguments.  

“Hearings were held yesterday. The decision will be announced in a month. Ivan and I had the opportunity to state our position and explain why we do not agree with the decision that was made. There is nothing to comment on at this stage yet,” Titov told RIA Novosti Sport.

Kuliak, 20, was banned from all competitions for one year by world gymnastics federation the FIG back in March.

It was initially claimed by Russian officials that he would at least continue to participate in domestic events, although that decision was later reversed for fear that Kuliak could be further sanctioned by the FIG.

The controversy stemmed from an Apparatus World Cup event held in Doha, Qatar, back in March. Kuliak won bronze in the parallel bars competition, while Ukraine’s Illia Kovtun claimed gold.

Taking to the podium, Kuliak appeared with a ‘Z’ attached to his leotard. The symbol is used by Russian forces in the military campaign in Ukraine and is used as a show of support by sections of the population at home.

Kuliak later explained to RT that he and other Russian athletes at the event had faced “provocation” from their Ukrainian rivals.

“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,” said the gymnast.

“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 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.”

In addition to his ban, Kuliak was stripped of his medal, fined 500 Swiss francs (around $530) and ordered to pay 2,000 Swiss francs towards the costs of the proceedings in his case.

Veteran Russian gymnastics trainer Valentina Rodionenko, who was at the event in Doha but was not punished by the FIG, also accused Ukrainian representatives of inflammatory behavior.

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

“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.”