Swimming’s world governing body FINA said on Friday it had suspended Russian Olympic gold medallist Evgeny Rylov for nine months after he attended a rally in support of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, a move that drew an angry reaction from the Kremlin and Russian sports officials.
Rylov, who won gold in the 100 and 200 meters backstroke events at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, was among several athletes who attended a massive rally at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium last month hosted by President Vladimir Putin.
Rylov and other athletes wore the letter “Z” on their outfit, an identifying symbol used by supporters of what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
FINA said the suspension came “following Mr. Rylov’s attendance and conduct at an event held at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow”.
Rylov, who also lost his sponsorship deal with swimwear maker Speedo over his presence at the rally, told Sport Express newspaper his lawyers were reviewing the case but it was still unclear whether they would appeal his suspension.
The Kremlin said FINA’s decision showed the “politicization of sport.”
“We believe this is absolutely contrary to the ideas of sport,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call. “When the strongest (competitors) loses the opportunity to participate, this ultimately harms international federations and international competitions.”
Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin was quoted by TASS news agency as saying Rylov’s suspension was “discriminatory and politicized”.
Stanislav Pozdnyakov, president of Russia’s Olympic Committee, called it a case of discrimination based on nationality.
“To suspend an athlete for nine months for taking part in a concert is not even an embarrassment, it’s a joke,” Pozdnyakov wrote on the Telegram messenger app.
FINA has already cancelled all its events that were set to take place in Russia and has barred Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from taking part in its competitions until the end of the year.