The ability of the sports world to churn on through societal decay is dismaying or courageous depending on how you frame it. Oscillating between the stoicism of the Ukrainian national team playing through an invasion, and Black athletes being asked to perform in front of white people a day after a racially motivated mass shooting, the narrative often becomes the story more so than the athletes.
What should they say? Should they boycott a game? Should they take power into their own hands and walk out hours before a live event?
However, when Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak decided to tape his country’s pro-war “Z” symbol to his leotard and parade up to the podium to accept his bronze medal, he didn’t leave a lot of room for nuance. Empathetic people as a whole more or less agreed that this guy is better suited for a movie villain than as a part of humanity. And a little over two months after the incident, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) finally caught up, as the Disciplinary Commission of the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) has now sanctioned Kuliak for violating FIG rules.
I’m not here to denounce the FIG or the GEF, because the more acronyms that are involved, the longer the bureaucracy takes to play out. It is a little ridiculous that it took this long, though, and I’m not sure why they had to find a rule that he violated. Has no one on any of the panels seen Rocky IV? Even if they’ve never actually watched it, a Russian athlete/sociopath named Ivan being used by his country to push an agenda didn’t sound vaguely familiar?
Sorry, tangent over. So Kuliak, who wasn’t currently competing anyway due to a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes, now has to sit out until May 17, 2023, and if the ban runs past that date, he’ll still have to wait another six months after the ban is lifted. The FIG needed to be advised by the International Olympics Committee to ban those athletes, because the IOC is the standard bearer for thoroughly thought-out suspensions and bans (he wrote with so much sarcasm it seeped out of his eyeballs). Glad to see the IOC has a breaking point somewhere between state-run doping scandals and palling up to a genocidal maniac.
In addition to the ban, Zuliak has to return his bronze medal, about $500 in winnings, and another $2,000 toward the cost of the proceedings. (Oh, so that’s what took so long. Why didn’t I think of that? I should’ve known that someone wanted a clear out to deliver a lecture, and proceedings are the perfect forum for that. Kind of like how parenthetical sentences are the perfect vehicle to extend a tangent you thought was over.)
Before I go, I mentioned that Zuliak is being used by his country. That implies that he knows not what he says, but just so you’re aware, I’m not letting him off the hook. When the story first broke, he said he’d do “exactly the same” if given the opportunity, per the Russia-controlled media outlet Russia Today.
“I saw it with our military and looked at what this symbol means. It turned out [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 stand for peace.”
Yeah, Ivan, you might’ve wanted the Russian stooge to read that last quote back to you. Using fight and peace in the same sentence isn’t helping your point.
The only redeeming aspect of all of this is Zuliak’s behavior was so appalling that there was no discussion about whether he should’ve been banned. It was pretty cut and dry, pretty black and white, pretty fight and peace.