Ukraine: Russian Olympic athletes face backlash after attending Putin rally


Russian Olympic athletes participating in a rally in support of President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine are facing backlash, with one person losing a sponsorship contract and facing a record investigation. the law.

Medal winners from cross-country skiing, gymnastics, figure skating and swimming gathered on stage at Luzhniki Stadium on Friday as part of a program of concerts and entertainment around the track. Putin’s speech.

Olympic champion swimmer Evgeny Rylov is being investigated by the sport’s governing body, known as FINA, for attending the event.

“The FINA executive confirms that the FINA Disciplinary Panel has opened proceedings against Russian swimmer Evgeny Rylov for a possible violation of FINA rules after he allegedly participated in a protest. pro-war sentiment at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow,” the swimming federation said Wednesday in a statement. “The FINA moderator has requested the panel proceedings.”

Rylov also lost an endorsement contract with swimwear manufacturer Speedo for his involvement in a pro-Putin rally.

“Following his attendance at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow over the weekend, Speedo can confirm that it has immediately terminated its sponsorship of Evgeny Rylov,” the company said. “We condemn the war in Ukraine in the strongest possible way and stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people, our athletes and teammates who have been affected by the conflict.”

Speedo added that it will donate the remainder of Rylov’s funding to UNHCR, the United Nations agency that takes care of refugees.

Most of the athletes, including Rylov, were pictured wearing jackets with the letter “Z” on their chests at the rally. The letter is not part of the Russian alphabet but became a symbol of support for the Russian military after it was used as a marker on Russian armored vehicles operating in Ukraine.

Other Olympic medalists in attendance included figure skaters Victoria Sinitsina, Nikita Katsalapov, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov; cross-country skier Alexander Bolshunov; and twin sisters Dina and Arina Averina in rhythmic gymnastics style.

Athletes stood on stage as the anthem was played, apparently in reference to the fact that the Russian teams at last year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo and this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing did not have songs. sang during their ceremony after years of doping disputes. .

The event was held on the anniversary of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, with patriotic songs and praises for the Russian-backed army and separatists.

“Not so long ago we supported them during this difficult Olympic season, now they support the fight against us and our country,” Ukrainian ice dancer Oleksandra Nazarova wrote on Instagram last week with a photo of four Russian skaters taking part in a protest.

Nazarova and her partner Maksym Nikitin are both from Kharkiv, the predominantly Russian-speaking city in northeastern Ukraine, which has been heavily bombarded by Russian forces.

Since the invasion, dozens of sports have banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from their events after the International Olympic Committee recommended their expulsion from the competition. Belarus was Russia’s ally in the war.

However, swimming has vowed to allow the Russians and Belarusians to compete “in a neutral manner” but took a tough stance on Wednesday with a complete ban on the world championships.

Hours earlier, Rylov had said on Instagram that he would boycott the swimming world championships in June and July “as a sign of support” for Russian athletes banned from other competitions. .

FINA also said that Russia has now withdrawn from all international competitions.

There is precedent for a Russian opponent to be personally punished for supporting government policies. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak is facing a disciplinary hearing for wearing a “Z” logo on the podium next to his Ukrainian opponent, and chess player Sergey Karjakin was suspended for six months on Monday. for posts on social media with staunch support for Putin and the Russian military.

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