Russian gymnast wears pro-war 'Z' symbol as he stands on podium next to Ukrainian gold medalist

Ivan Kuliak wore a top with the pro-war symbol Z on it during the medal ceremony. Credit: Claro Sports

A Russian artistic gymnast who displayed the letter Z, a symbol of support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, on front of his outfit as he stood on the podium next to a Ukrainian athlete who had won gold, faces disciplinary proceedings from the ruling body.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) denounced Ivan Kuliak's "shocking behaviour" during the medal ceremony at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha over the weekend.

The Russian athlete, who finished third in the parallel bars final, brandished the letter Z on the front of his outfit as he stood on the podium to receive his bronze medal next to the winner, Ukrainian Illia Kovtun.

The letter Z has become a powerful pro-Putin symbol since Russia invaded Ukraine 12 days ago. Russian forces have been displaying it on military vehicles while supporters of the war have also begun brandishing it on car windows and clothing as a sign of their solidarity with their president.

Following the incident, the FIG said in a statement: "The International Gymnastics Federation confirms that it will ask the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation to open disciplinary proceedings against ... Kuliak following his shocking behaviour at the Apparatus World Cup."

Russian military tanks in Ukraine with the letter Z painted on the side, as seen by ITV News. Credit: ITV News

Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a "special operation" and has cracked down hard on Russians protesting the war. Last week, the Russian Duma approved a law making it a criminal offence punishable by up to 15 years in prison for the publication of “fake news” concerning its armed forces.

What does the Z symbol mean?

There are several interpretations of the symbol that is becoming a powerful identity and propaganda tool in Russia's war with Ukraine and an emblem of national identity. Russia analyst Kamil Galeev said it is thought by some to mean “Za pobedy" (victory), Others - as "Zapad" (West). Some say that it stands for Zelenskky, the Ukrainian president, who has survived several assassination attempts.

Ivan Kuliak stands next to Ukrainian gold medalist Illia Kovtun on the podium. Credit: Claro Sports

The FIG has already cancelled all of its events in Russia and Belarus adding that it would not allocate other events to the two countries until further notice.

"The FIG adopted further measures against Russia and Belarus on March 4. From March 7, 2022, Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials, including judges, are not allowed to take part in FIG competitions or FIG-sanctioned competitions," it added.

The sporting world has effectively banned Russia out of competing.

The Olympic and Paralympic committees, Fifa and Formula 1 are among the other big organisations to exclude Russia from their sports, with the country banned from competing at the football World Cup, from hosting the Sochi Grand Prix and from competing at the Beijing Paralympics.

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