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Ivan Kuliak at a gymnastics event in Doha, Qatar. CNN
Ivan Kuliak

Russian gymnast banned for one year for pro-war 'Z' symbol

The Z symbol has gone from a marking on Russian military vehicles to a pro-war symbol.

A RUSSIAN GYMNAST who sported an insignia linked to his country’s invasion of Ukraine on a medal podium has been banned for one year, a disciplinary panel said.

Ivan Kuliak’s singlet had the letter ‘Z’ prominently placed as he stood next to Ukraine’s Kovtun Illia, the gold medallist at a World Cup event in Doha in March.

The ‘Z’ has been seen painted on Russian tanks and vehicles in Ukraine and has come to symbolise support for the invasion.

The most popular theory used by military experts to explain the letter is that it was written according to the area where the Russian troops are usually stationed, with Z potentially standing for Zapad (west).

The Russian defence ministry itself has not commented on any of the theories, and instead posted on its Instagram channel that Z meant Za pobedu (“for victory”)

The Z symbol has gone from a military marking to the main symbol of public support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In April, a convoy of 10 cars was seen driving down the M50 led by a car with the Z symbol on its bonnet and bearing Russian, Soviet and Irish flags.

Just three days after the invasion, the Kremlin-funded state network Russia Today announced on its social media channels that it was selling Z merchandise, including T-shirts and hoodies, to show support for Russian troops

A disciplinary commission of the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) found that Kuliak violated rules of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), the sport’s ruling body.

“Mr Kuliak is not allowed to participate in any FIG-sanctioned event or competition organised by an affiliated FIG member federation for one year as of the date of this decision,” GEF said.

Kuliak must also return his bronze medal and prize money of 500 Swiss francs (€476).

He has 21 days to appeal against the punishment.

It had already been decided that all Russian and Belarusian gymnasts will be banned from future competitions.

“If the protective measures keeping Russian athletes from competing are still in place on 17 May 2023, the ban shall continue and expire six months after the removal of said measures,” GEF said.

© AFP 2022 with reporting from Jamie McCarron

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