Decision to ban Russian gymnast who wore the pro-war 'Z' symbol, while standing on the podium with a Ukrainian, is 'completely lawless,' Moscow official says

  • Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak was barred from competing for a year this week.

  • In early March, Kuliak sparked outrage by wearing the pro-war "Z" symbol on his chest on the podium.

  • Officials in Moscow slammed the ban, saying that nowhere in the rules was wearing the symbol banned.

Banning gymnast Ivan Kuliak for a year is "completely lawless" and outside the rules of international gymnastics, a top sports official in Moscow has said.

Earlier this week, the 20-year-old Russian Kuliak was banned from competing for a year following his actions at a March meet in Doha, Qatar.

After finishing third in a World Cup event, Kuliak posed on the podium sporting a "Z" on his chest while standing next to Illia Kovtun, a Ukrainian gymnast who had won the competition. The "Z" symbol is associated with support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Kuliak's display was widely condemned at the time, but he has only now been formally punished individually, sparking anger in Russia.

Dmitry Svishchev, chairman of the State Duma Committee on Physical Education and Sport, in an interview with state media outlet TASS on Wednesday questioned why Kuliak had been banned at all, saying there is nothing in the rules that say he could not wear the "Z" symbol.

"I was surprised to see that the International Federation and the organizers of the Doha tournament have added several letters of the Latin alphabet to the list of banned symbols," Svishchev said, per a translation by Insider.

"When I read the regulations, I did not see that they were on the list that might result in sanctions," said Svishchev.

"Therefore, the decision to disqualify an athlete and deprive them of awards and prize money is completely lawless."

An image of Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak and his Ukrainian rival Ilia Kovtun.
Ivan Kuliak finished third in Qatar, losing out to Ukraine's Illia Kovtun.Screenshot/YouTube/Euronews

Alongside his ban, Kuliak was ordered to repay the prize money he won at the Qatar competition, 500 Swiss francs ($512) and to pay a further 2,000 Swiss francs ($2,049) for the cost of proceedings.

"What is not forbidden is allowed, and I personally do not see Kuliak's behavior as offensive, discriminatory or nationalistic, just like the rest of the normal civilized world,"  Svishchev continued.

"Unfortunately, the Federation cannot cope with the pressure coming from politicians and big business tycoons who regulate law or lawlessness in sport. It has not withstood the blow, and an innocent athlete has suffered."

Kuliak's ban will run until at least May 17, 2023. If the ban on all Russian athletes currently enforced by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) is still in place on that date, Kuliak will be banned for another six months, authorities said.

The ban is just the latest handed down to Russian athletes since the invasion of Ukraine. As well as broad brush bans on athletes in a number of sports like swimming and soccer, a number of individuals have also been banned for overt pro-Moscow displays.

Double Olympic gold medalist Evgeny Rylov, for instance, was banned by swimming's governing body FINA, after he attended a pro-war demonstration in Moscow in March.

Elsewhere, Russian and Belarusian players have been banned from this summer's Wimbledon tennis tournament.

Read the original article on Insider