DRussian gymnast Ivan Kuljak has been banned for at least a year by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG). It informs the association on Tuesday. Kulyak won bronze at the World Championships in Qatar in early March and wore a jersey with the letter ‘Z’ at the award ceremony on the podium along with Ukrainian winner Illya Kovtun. Kulyak used the symbol to express his solidarity with Russian troops involved in the invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian defended his decision immediately after the World Cup: “If I had the choice again whether I would wear the letter Z on my chest or not, I would make the same choice,” he told Russia’s state television company Russia Today. In his own words, the 20-year-old saw the symbol in the Russian military and then realized that it stood for victory and peace. “I do not want anything bad for anyone,” Kuljak said. “I just wanted to demonstrate my position as an athlete. I will always fight for victory and stand for peace.”
Reactions from Russia and Ukraine
The Ukrainian gymnast and Olympic champion in Rio, Oleh Vernyaev, criticized Kulyak’s statements on Instagram: “With all due respect, please bear with me, but the Russians should not complain that sports are out of politics!”
Valentina Rodionenko, coach of the Russian national team, saw no reason for punishment. “We did not break any rules and did not provoke anyone,” she told Russian news agency Novosti. “No one said anything on the spot. We flew away, and then the Ukrainian side apparently appealed to the disciplinary commission.”
They wanted to provoke the Russian team from the first day of the competition and tried to create a conflict situation. “Ukrainian coaches insulted our country, said bad things,” Rodionenko said. “Our boys replied that one should think of sports when competing, not of politics.” Nevertheless, one was prepared for the disqualification.
The FIG statement said Kuljak had violated the organization’s charter, disciplinary code, ethics and conduct, as well as technical regulations. In addition to the ban, the Russian was deprived of his bronze medal and had to return the prize money. Russian and Belarusian athletes have been officially banned from participating in competitions under world sovereignty since March 7 by a decision of the FIG due to the Ukraine war.
Kulyak’s suspension is valid until at least May 17, 2023. If the sanctions against the Russian and Belarusian athletes are still in place until then, Kulyak’s suspension will automatically end six months later.