Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak wore a pro-invasion “Z” symbol on his chest to compete in the parallel bars event of the 2022 Gymnastics World Cup in Doha.
20-year-old Kuliak, who won bronze, wore a singlet with the Z taped on the front when he took to the podium next to Ukrainian gymnast Illia Kovtun, who won gold.
The “Z” insignia stands for “za pobedy” or “for victory”.
It is emblazoned on Russian tanks and vehicles in the ongoing Ukrainian invasion and has become a symbol of support for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s pro-war agenda.
The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) released a statement the next day asking the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation to open disciplinary proceedings against Kuliak, which could strip him of his bronze medal and result in a lengthy ban.
The FIG has since also suspended all Russian and Belarusian gymnasts, officials and judges from all future FIG competitions.
Kuliak’s behavior sparked global outcry. However, he remains unrepentant.
“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,” he told state-controlled TV network Russia Today. “I just wanted to show my position. As an athlete, I will always fight for victory and play for peace.”
Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine has faced worldwide condemnation, with Western countries imposing growing sanctions.
More than two million people have been forced to flee Ukraine since the war began on Feb. 24, according to the United Nations.