Russian Gymnast Investigated for Wearing Pro-Invasion Symbol on World Cup Podium

Ivan Kuliak may be banned from the sport for violating the sport’s code of discipline

The International Gymnastics Federation is investigating a Russian gymnast who wore a symbol supporting the invasion of Ukraine on his uniform while appearing at the World Cup medal ceremony.

Ivan Kuliak, 20, received a bronze medal on March 5 for his performance on the parallel bars at the international competition held in Doha, Qatar.

During the ceremony, Kuliak wore a “Z” symbol made of tape while standing next to the Ukrainian gold-medal winner on the podium.

The sport’s governing body, which is known by the abbreviation FIG, spoke out against the athlete’s “shocking behavior.”

In a statement online, the FIG said on March 6 it would ask the  Gymnastics Ethics Foundation to carry out disciplinary actions against the artistic gymnast.

Kuliak’s political demonstration came the day after the FIG expanded the strict regulations enacted against officials and athletes from Russia and Belarus. 

The organization initially announced on Feb. 26 that, in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, flags from Russia or Belarus were prohibited from being displayed and that neither nation’s national anthem could be played at any FIG-sanctioned events.

All FIG events scheduled to take place in the allied nations were canceled. The organization asked the FIG Foundation for Solidarity to earmark aid for the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation and its athletes impacted by the war.

“As a sporting governing body, our first duty is to protect all our athletes, including to protect them from political pressure,” said FIG President Morinari Watanabe in a press release

On March 4, the FIG said it was necessary to increase the emergency measures following recommendations from the International Olympic Committee.

It subsequently banned all Russian and Belarusian athletes, coaches, judges, and other officials from taking part in FIG or FIG-sanctioned competitions beginning on March 7 “until further notice.”

“The FIG would like to stress that these exceptional and emergency measures are decided and issued in view of the above-mentioned extraordinary circumstances,” the organization said in its statement. “They constitute preventive measures aiming at preserving the integrity of Gymnastics, the safety and integrity of members and all athletes and participants, and at fighting against all forms of violence and of sports injustice.”

The FIG noted that “Russian and Belarusian nationals who are members of the FIG Executive Committee or of FIG technical committees are not affected by this measure when acting in their capacity as FIG Authorities.”

Under the FIG disciplinary code, athletes can be disciplined for acts that “behave in an offensive way,” “damage the image of gymnastics” or “demonstrate anti-sport behavior,” per AP News

The “Z” symbol is reportedly symbolic of the Russian word victory and had appeared on tanks involved in the country’s invasion of Ukraine, according to CNBC.

RT, a Russian news outlet, was condemned for selling “Z” merchandise in February following the invasion.

“RT has new merch. Let’s support our guys in Ukraine,” the outlet wrote in a post on social media debuting the design.

Kuliak was Russia’s Junior all-around and floor champion in 2019. The same year he received two silver medals and one bronze at the European Youth Summer Olympic Festival and was given the title Master of Sports by the Russian Federation.

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