- Ivan Kuliak wore the pro-war “Z” symbol on his chest during a medal ceremony in Qatar in March.
- He was standing next to his Ukrainian rival at the time and has since defended his actions.
- On Tuesday, gymnastics’ governing body barred Kuliak from competing for at least a year.
A Russian gymnast who wore a pro-war “Z” symbol while standing next to his Ukrainian opponent has been banned from the sport for a year and ordered to return his medal.
In March, Ivan Kuliak, 20, displayed the symbol on the podium during a medal ceremony at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha, Qatar. The same symbol has been painted on the side of Russian military vehicles invading Ukraine and has since been co-opted by people supporting the invasion.
During the ceremony, Kuliak, who won bronze in the competition’s parallel bars final, stood inches away from his Ukrainian opponent, Kovtun Illia, who won gold.
Immediately after the competition, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) criticized Kuliak, describing his behavior as “shocking” and calling for disciplinary proceedings against the athlete.
In a Tuesday statement, FIG said Kuliak’s stunt breached its code of conduct and barred him from competing in the sport for a year, retroactively disqualified him from the Doha competition, and ordered him to return his medal.
FIG also ordered Kuliak to return his prize money of 500 Swiss francs ($ 502) and pay a further 2,000 Swiss francs ($ 2,011) for the cost of proceedings.
The federation had on March 4 already barred athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus from joining any event or competition organized by FIG or its affiliate for an unspecified amount of time.
In its Tuesday statement, FIG said it was barring Kuliak until May 17, 2023, and that if the ban on Russian athletes was still in place then, Kuliak’s ban would continue for another six months.
Kuliak can appeal the decision within 21 days of being notified, FIG added.
Russian athletes have been barred from their respective sports since the invasion of Ukraine.
In February, the International Olympic Committee, which organizes the Olympic Games, called for a ban on athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus. FIFA, soccer’s governing body, has also banned Russian teams from international competition, meaning its men’s team will miss the 2022 World Cup.
Wimbledon has also barred Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing at this summer’s tennis tournament.
Individual Russian athletes have also been sanctioned for supporting the war in Ukraine. Evgeny Rylov, a swimmer who won two gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics, was last month barred from swimming competitions for nine months for attending a rally in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
After receiving backlash for wearing the “Z” symbol, Kuliak appeared to blame his Ukrainian opponents for creating an “uncomfortable” atmosphere at the competition and said he would display the symbol again.
“If there was a second chance and I had a choice whether to go out with the letter ‘Z’ on my chest or not, I would do the same,” Kuliak told Russian state media.
“I saw it on our military and looked at what this symbol means. It turned out to be ‘for victory’ and ‘for peace.’ I just wanted to show my position. As an athlete, I will always fight for victory and play for peace, “he added.