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A Russian gymnast faces disciplinary action for wearing a 'Z' symbol on a podium

Ivan Kuliak wears a Z symbol at a gymnastics World Cup event in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday.
Screenshot by NPR/YouTube
Ivan Kuliak wears a Z symbol at a gymnastics World Cup event in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday.

Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak is facing disciplinary action after wearing a "Z" symbol taped to his uniform while standing next to Ukrainian Illia Kovtun on the podium at a gymnastics World Cup event in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday.

The letter has become widely regarded as a symbol of support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Although Z is not a part of the Cyrillic alphabet, Russian military vehicles participating in the invasion have donned the letter, and its use has spread to supporters of the operation.

The Russian and Ukrainian athletes stood next to each other in the medal ceremony for parallel bars after Kovtun won a gold and Kuliak took bronze.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) issued a statement Sunday saying that "it will ask the Gymnastics Ethics foundation to open disciplinary proceedings against male artistic gymnast Ivan Kuliak (RUS) following his shocking behaviour at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha, Qatar."

Service members of pro-Russian troops in uniforms without insignia drive an armoured vehicle with the symbol "Z" painted on its side in the separatist-controlled village of Bugas during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the Donetsk region, Ukraine on Sunday.
Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters
Pro-Russian troops in uniforms without insignia drive an armored vehicle with the "Z" symbol painted on it in the separatist-controlled village of Bugas in Ukraine's Donetsk region on Sunday.

Kuliak had taped the letter on his uniform in place of the Russian flag, which had been banned by the FIG. The world gymnastics regulatory body announced in late February that the flags of both Russia and Belarus must not be displayed at any FIG competitions, and it also banned the playing of those countries' national anthems.

Since then, it has banned Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from taking part in any FIG competitions or FIG-sanctioned competitions, effective March 7.

The FIG's announcement comes on the heels of other world sporting organizations distancing themselves from Russia since it invaded its neighbor.

FIFA, the international soccer governing body, recently suspended all Russian soccer teams from competitions until further notice after numerous European teams announced they would refuse to play Russia in upcoming friendlies and World Cup qualifying matches. The suspension was jointly supported by UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, effectively banning the country from competing in the upcoming 2022 World Cup.

Russian athletes were also banned from competing in the Beijing Paralympic Games the day before events were set to begin.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeff Dean
Jeff Dean is the 2021 Military Veterans in Journalism intern for NPR reporting for the Business Desk and Newsdesk teams.