He Wore a 'Z' After Medaling. Now, a Ban

Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak sported letter, symbol of Russian invasion, while next to Ukrainian
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 18, 2022 9:25 AM CDT

(Newser) – The letter "Z," a letter proudly tied by the Russians to their invasion of Ukraine, has been spotted everywhere from military tanks to warmongering politicians. One of the country's gymnasts, however, is now paying the price for defiantly wearing his own version of it after medaling in an event. Ivan Kuliak, 20, won the bronze for a parallel bars performance during the Apparatus World Cup in Doha, Qatar, in March, and when it came time to ascend to the winners podium to receive his prize, he wore a light-colored "Z" taped to his leotard—while standing next to the Ukrainian gold medalist, Illia Kovtun, reports the BBC.

The International Gymnastics Federation, or FIG, blasted Kuliak's provocative move as "shocking," per Euronews. At the time, state media in Russia reported that the gymnast had no regrets for the move, noting he would do "exactly the same" if he could again, per CNN. "I didn't wish anything bad on anyone, I just showed my position," he said. "As an athlete, I will always fight for victory and stand for peace." The disciplinary arm of the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation found Kuliak violated FIG rules, and now he's not allowed to take part in any FIG-tied event for a year.

"If the protective measures keeping Russian athletes from competing are still in place" a year from now, "the ban shall continue and expire six months after the removal of said measures," notes a FIG statement. Kuliak must also give his medal back, return his prize money (about $500), and pay $2,000 or so toward the investigatory proceedings. He's allowed to appeal within three weeks. More on what the symbol "Z" is thought to mean here. (Read more Russians stories.)

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