Russian Olympians face backlash over Putin rally

Russian Olympians face backlash over Putin rally thumbnail

7: 39 AM ET

  • Associated Press

LONDON — Russian Olympic athletes who participated in a rally supporting President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine are facing a backlash, with one losing a sponsorship deal and facing a disciplinary investigation.

Medalists from cross-country skiing, gymnastics, figure skating and swimming gathered on stage at the Luzhniki Stadium on Friday as part of the concert and entertainment program around Putin’s speech. The Associated Press was informed by the sport’s governing body that

Olympic champion swimmer Evgeny Rylov is being investigated for attending the event.

“FINA regrets the reports about Evgeny Rylov’s appearance Friday at the Luzhniki Stadium. The governing body sent an email Tuesday stating that they are continuing to investigate the matter.

Rylov also lost his endorsement deal to Speedo swimwear manufacturer because of his participation in the pro-Putin rally.

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

Speedo stated that it will donate the remaining sponsorship fee for Rylov to UNHCR, a United Nations agency that aids refugees.

Many of the athletes, including Rylov were seen wearing jackets with a Z on their chests at the rally. Although the letter isn’t part of Russian alphabet, it has become a symbol for support for Russian troops since it was used to mark Russian armored vehicles in Ukraine.

Also in attendance were figure skaters Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov and Evgenia Tarasova, Vladimir Morozov, and Alexander Bolshunov, a cross-country skier; and rhythmic gymnastics twins Dina and Arina.

The athletes stood on the stage while the national anthem played. This was apparent in reference to the fact that the Russian teams at the last year’s Summer Olympics, Tokyo, and this year’s Winter Olympics, Beijing didn’t have the anthem during their ceremonies due to years of doping disputes.

The event was held to commemorate Russia’s 2014 annexe of Crimea from Ukraine. It featured patriotic songs and praises for the troops and Russia-backed separatists.

“We supported them in this difficult Olympic year, but now they support war against us and the country,” Oleksandra Nazarova, a Ukrainian ice dancer, wrote last week on Instagram with a photo of four Russian skaters participating in the rally.

Nazarova is from Kharkiv. This Russian-speaking city is the victim of intense Russian forces bombardment.

Dozens of sports have banned Russian and Belarusian competitors from their events since the invasion. This was after the International Olympic Committee recommended that they be expelled. Belarus was an ally of Russia during the war.

Russian competitors have been punished in the past for supporting government policies. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak faces a disciplinary hearing after he wore a “Z” symbol next to a Ukrainian competitor. Chess player Sergey Karjakin was also suspended for six months Monday due to his social media posts that showed support for Putin’s troops and strident support for Putin.

Russian teams have been barred from all three of the governing bodies for skating, gymnastics, and skiing. The governing body for swimming joined them Wednesday, banning Russians from the summer’s world championships.

Rylov posted on Instagram Wednesday that he would not attend the world championships in June or July “as a gesture of support” for Russian athletes who were barred from competing in other competitions.

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