December 2, 2022
Ivan Kuliak, a Russian gymnast who taped the letter "Z" on his uniform at a gymnastics World Cup event in Doha, Qatar, has been stripped of his bronze medal and...

Ivan Kuliak, a Russian gymnast who taped the letter “Z” on his uniform at a gymnastics World Cup event in Doha, Qatar, has been stripped of his bronze medal and banned from competition for a year by the International Gymnastics Federation.

While the exact meaning of the letter “Z” in the context of the Ukraine war isn’t clear, it’s widely believed to be a pro-Russia symbol.

In a statement Monday, the international gymnastics governing body said Kuliak also must return his prize money of about $500 and must pay just over $2,000 “toward the costs of the proceedings.”

The group said the 20-year-old athlete had violated “the FIG Code of Ethics and the FIG Code of Conduct when he wore the letter ‘Z’ on his singlet during the competition and the award ceremony at the FIG Apparatus World Cup in Doha in March 2022.”

On the awards podium, Kuliak stood next to Ukrainian gymnast Illia Kovtun, who won the gold medal.

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The organization penalized the Russian by barring him from competing “in any FIG-sanctioned event or competition organised by an affiliated FIG member federation for one year as of the date of this decision.”

The FIG also noted that if the current wide-ranging ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes is still in place one year from the start of Kuliak’s ban (2023), he’ll be subject to an additional six-month ban from whenever those restrictions are lifted.

The gymnast has 21 days to appeal the decision.

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Kuliak, who won the bronze medal in the parallel bars at the Doha meet, later defended his actions.

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“I saw it with our military and looked at what this symbol means,” he said, according to Fox News. “It turned out [it means] ‘for victory’ and ‘for peace.”

“I didn’t wish anything bad on anyone, I just showed [what] my position [was]. As an athlete, I will always fight for victory and stand for peace. Only [for that] and everything,” Kuliak added.

This incident spotlights a number of issues festering in sports today.

First, the FIG’s punishment is overly harsh for a 20-year-old who merely wore a letter on his uniform.

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Unlike many American athletes — including some gymnasts — who have demonstrated at competitions in support of the polarizing Black Lives Matter movement, Kuliak didn’t defiantly raise his fist, kneel or make any other overt political gesture.

Second, banning a gymnast for more than a year during his peak competition years is a brutal punishment.

Gymnasts have very short athletic careers, so this penalty was extreme.

Third, it’s reasonable to wonder how the FIG would’ve reacted if a gymnast had worn a Black Lives Matter patch or some other “acceptable” left-wing iconography.

In July 2021, Costa Rican gymnast Luciana Alvarado kneeled and defiantly raised her fist in support of BLM during her floor exercise routine at the Summer Olympics.

Alvarado was lionized as a hero despite showing overt support for a divisive, race-baiting cabal that many people associate with riots and violence.

Notably, there was no outcry about Alvarado’s left-wing activism from the International Gymnastics Federation.

In 2021, members of the gymnastics team from the University of Pittsburgh wore leotards with the “BLM” slogan emblazoned down the sleeve at a collegiate competition.

Again, these athletes were celebrated by the media and their sport for their shameless left-wing activism.

So given the mixed messages being bandied about, perhaps it’s no surprise that a Russian gymnast thought it was OK for him to quietly make a political statement of his own.

This is why political activism has no place in sports. It’s a slippery slope into toxicity.

People watch athletic events to escape the nonstop barrage of propaganda that has infested every aspect of our lives, from television to movies to news to the workplace.

Ideally, Kuliak wouldn’t have worn a “Z” on his uniform because a gymnastics competition is not a political rally and therefore not the appropriate venue for airing his views.

At the same time, we shouldn’t be surprised that left-wing activism is not punished (if anything, it’s encouraged) while any other messaging is viciously put down.