Russian Gymnast Explains Why He Wore 'Z War Symbol' Next To Ukrainian Athlete

The Russian gymnast who wore a ‘Z’ symbol seen on Russian war machinery in Ukraine has spoken out about his decision to do so – also admitting he would do it again, given the choice.

Ivan Kuliak, 20, finished third on the parallel bars at the World Cup event in Doha, Qatar, with Ukrainian star Illia Kovtun taking home the gold.

During the medal presentation ceremony, Kuliak could be seen standing on the podium with a ‘Z’ clearly taped to his chest, having also worn the symbol during his routine.

The symbol is extremely controversial as it has been seen painted onto Russian tanks and military vehicles during the invasion of Ukraine, which has been met with widespread condemnation from the international community.
Kuliak wearing the controversial 'Z' symbol. Credit: Doha World Cup
Kuliak’s actions mean he is now facing a ban, after the International Gymnastics Federations (FIG) confirmed it is investigating the incident – saying in a statement: “It will ask the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation to open disciplinary proceedings against Ivan Kuliak following his shocking behavior.”

However, he appears to be sticking to his stance, telling Russia Today how he wanted show his ‘position’.

Speaking to the outlet earlier today (Tuesday 8 March), he said: “If there was a second chance and I had a choice whether to go out with the letter ‘Z’ on my chest or not, I would do the same.

“I saw it on our military and looked at what this symbol means. 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 play for peace.”
Kuliak on the podium. Credit: Doha World Cup

Russian athletes are currently not allowed to compete under their own flag or have the Russian anthem played.

The FIG also announced that, indefinitely from yesterday (Monday 7 March), no Russian or Belarusian gymnasts or officials will be allowed at international competitions.

After Kuliak’s message at the ceremony was spotted, Ukrainian gymnast Oleg Verniaiev shared an Instagram post expressing his rage.

He wrote: “Of course, you will excuse me, but let the Russians not shout that sport is out of politics!

“Congratulations to our guy [the Ukrainian winner], everything is in its place glory to Ukraine.”

Kuliak is not the first Russian athlete to publicly support Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

At the weekend, two-time Olympic gold medallist Svetlana Khorkina also shared the ‘Z’ symbol online with the caption: “A campaign for those who are not ashamed to be Russian.

“Let’s spread it.”

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