Russian gymnast who wore Pro-War ‘Z’ symbol banned for a year

  • Ivan Kuliak wore the pro-war “Z” symbol on his chest during a medal ceremony in Qatar in March.
  • He stood alongside his Ukrainian rival at the time and has since defended his actions.
  • On Tuesday, the gymnastics governing body banned Kuliak from competing for at least a year.

A Russian gymnast who wore a pro-war “Z” symbol as he stood next to his Ukrainian opponent has been banned from the sport for a year and ordered to return his medal.

In March, 20-year-old Ivan Kuliak displayed the symbol on the podium during a medal ceremony at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha, Qatar. The same symbol was 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, bronze medalist in the competition’s parallel bars final, stood a few centimeters of his Ukrainian opponent, Kovtun Illia, who won gold.

An image of Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak and his Ukrainian rival Ilia Kovtun.

Kuliak displaying the “Z” symbol on the right as his Ukrainian opponent, Kovtun Illia, approaches the podium.


Immediately after the competition, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) criticized Kuliak, calling his behavior “shocking” and calling for disciplinary action against the athlete.

In a statement Tuesdaythe FIG said Kuliak’s stunt breached its code of conduct and banned him from competing in the sport for a year, retroactively disqualified him from competing in Doha and ordered him to return his medal.

The FIG also ordered Kuliak to return his prize money of 500 Swiss francs ($502) and pay an additional 2,000 Swiss francs ($2,011) for court costs.

The federation had March 4 already banned athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus to participate in any event or competition organized by the FIG or its affiliate for an indefinite period.

In its statement on Tuesday, the FIG said it was banning Kuliak until May 17, 2023, and while the ban on Russian athletes was still in effect, Kuliak’s ban would continue for another six months.

Kuliak can appeal the decision within 21 days of notification, the FIG added.

Russian athletes have been excluded from their respective sports since the invasion of Ukraine.

In February, the International Olympic Committee, which organizes the Olympics, called for a ban on athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus. Football’s governing body FIFA has also banned Russian teams from participating in international competitions, meaning its men’s team will miss the 2022 World Cup.

Wimbledon has also banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from taking part in this summer’s tennis tournament.

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 barred from swimming competitions for nine months last month for taking part in 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 during the competition and said he would display the symbol again.

“If there was a second chance and I had the choice 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 up what that symbol meant. 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 I will play for peace,” he added.

James V. Hayes