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Featured Image Credit: Doha World Cup
Ivan Kuliak finished third on the parallel bars at the World Cup event in Doha, Qatar.
Ukraine’s Illia Kovtun took home the gold, but Kuliak made sure that he clearly taped the ‘Z’ across his chest as the cameras came in for the medal presentation ceremony.
He also wore the symbol during his routine.
That symbol is seriously 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.
In fact, Russian athletes are currently not allowed to compete under their own flag or have the Russian anthem played.
That was the case before, because of allegations of state-sponsored doping, but the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) announced that no Russian or Belarussian gymnasts and officials will be allowed at international competitions indefinitely starting from Monday (7 March).
The ‘Z’ symbol has generated much interest since it was seen, with several theories existing as to what it stands for.
It is thought that it could just be a way for Russian forces to recognise one another, given that Ukraine has some similar military vehicles, but it also stands for the Russian phrase ‘for victory’.
Last November, 20-year-old Kuliak received some training with the Russian military.
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.
Earlier this week, two-time Olympic gold medallist Svetlana Khorkina shared the ‘Z’ symbol online with the caption: “A campaign for those who are not ashamed to be Russian.
“Let’s spread it.”
The statement from the FIG regarding Russian and Belarussian participation explained: "The FIG (Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique) would like to stress that these exceptional and emergency measures are decided and issued in view of the above-mentioned extraordinary circumstances.
"They constitute preventive measures aiming at preserving the integrity of Gymnastics, the safety and integrity of members and all athletes and participants, and at fighting against all forms of violence and of sports injustice.
"Russian and Belarusian nationals who are members of the FIG Executive Committee or of FIG technical committees are not affected by this measure when acting in their capacity as FIG Authorities."