Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak, who has been widely criticized outside Russia for wearing a pro-war symbol on a podium next to a Ukrainian athlete, said he would “do the exact same thing” if he had another chance, according to Russian state media.
The 20-year-old has been condemned by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) for his “shocking behaviour” at a Gymnastics World Cup in Doha, Qatar last weekend.
Kuliak wore a ‘Z’ symbol taped to his leotard as he stood next to Ukrainian gymnast Illia Kovtun on the podium – Kovtun won gold and Kuliak took bronze on parallel bars on Saturday.
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Kuliak’s statement sparked a global furor with critics demanding he be stripped of his bronze medal and face immediate suspension from the sport.
“I can’t think of a more disgusting thing to do and a better reason to completely ban Russia from sporting events instead of the current half-measures,” Ukrainian journalist Tadeus Giczan wrote.
The “Z” insignia was displayed on tanks and vehicles used by the Russian military in its operations in Ukraine and has since become a symbol of support for the invasion of Ukraine.
Propaganda videos on social media appear to show supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin wearing clothes emblazoned with the “Z” symbol, waving Russian flags and chanting pro-Russian slogans.
“If there was a second chance and I had to choose again whether to go out with the letter ‘Z’ on my chest or not, I would do the exact same thing,” Kuliak reportedly told Russian-controlled news outlet Russia Today. today.
“I saw it with our military and looked up what this symbol meant. It turned out that it means ‘for victory’ and ‘for peace’.
“I didn’t wish anything bad on anyone, I just showed my position. As an athlete, I will always fight for victory and defend peace.
Having received expressions of support from the head of his sport’s governing body in Russia, the Russian Artistic Gymnastics Federation (FSGR), Vasily Titov, Kuliak says he was annoyed by Ukrainian athletes when they deployed their national flag at the event in Doha.
Under FIG regulations at the time, Russian gymnasts in the event were only allowed to compete as neutral athletes and could not display any national symbols.
The FIG confirmed in a statement that it would ask the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) to initiate disciplinary proceedings against Kuliak.
The WEF told CNN it could not comment on ongoing or potential cases by proceeding.
As of Monday, Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials, including judges, are barred from participating in official FIG-sanctioned competitions on the advice of the International Olympic Committee.
It comes as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, estimates that at least two million refugees have fled Ukraine since February 24, as fighting continues across the country.