Kovtun wears t-shirt with ‘Stop War’ on it during podium workout – Gymnovosti
During the second day of training on the MAG podium, Illia Kovtun appeared wearing a t-shirt in the colors of the Ukrainian flag with the words “Stop War” on the chest. He wore the t-shirt on the playground.
Kovtun has not been able to return to Ukraine since February, when he left the country to compete in Germany and the Russian invasion began on the first day of competition. Since becoming a refugee, Kovtun has had to stay first in Germany, then Italy, then Croatia, while his mother and grandmother come under rocket fire in Cherkasy. His outrage is more than understandable and protesting at the world championships gives him the most exposure.
Kovtun’s protest comes the same week FIG President Morinari Watanabe said he was against banning Russia and Belarus from the FIG Congress, even though several countries will boycott the event at reason for this decision. Watanabe asserted that the representatives of Russia and Belarus are neutral and do not actually represent their countries in the FIG:
“When you are elected as a member of an international organization, your position is not linked to your country of origin. Basically, you are in a neutral position.
“Above all, international organizations must strive to maintain, not end, relations with Russia and Belarus. As an international organization, the FIG will convey our point of view to its Russian and Belarusian officials. And we, the FIG, must also listen to their opinions”.
One of the so-called neutral participants from Russia will be Vassily Titov, president of the Russian Artistic Gymnastics Federation and head of the VTB bank. The public bank, a former sponsor of the FIG, is now the subject of international sanctions for its involvement in financing the war in Ukraine.
It will be interesting to see if the FIG will try to reprimand Kovtun in any way for wearing this t-shirt on the field of play. After Ivan Kuliak wore the Z symbol on his leotard during the World Cup world of Doha, the FIG has modified the code of conduct to explicitly prohibit any demonstration during competitions:
“All participants undertake to […] Refrain from any form of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda in gymnastics competitions”.
Kuliak claimed to have put the Z on his leotard to protest against the behavior of the Ukrainian team which he considered aggressive towards him:
“During the competition, they allowed themselves to shout ‘Glory to Ukraine!’ or step onto the podium wrapped in the country’s flag when we were considered neutral athletes and felt uncomfortable because of this”.
Valentina Rodionenko also declared the behavior of the Ukrainian team during the World Cup in Doha unacceptable and complained to the FIG:
“[They have been] trying to create conflict from day one. As the head of the delegation, I approached a FIG representative, he said he reprimanded them but they did not obey. They have violated the rules of the competition for which, among other things, the punishment is the lowering of the score or even the withdrawal from the competition. They wouldn’t go to the award ceremony if our [athletes] were on the medal podium. All in all it was intimidation, they were just humiliating the country through our delegation, I can’t put it any other way”.
No doubt Kovtun’s shirt will raise questions as to whether it was a violation of the FIG code of conduct. Overall, it is unclear how this no-demonstration rule will be interpreted and what type of demonstrations will actually be prohibited. For example, during the 2021 European Championships, Artur Davtyan put an Armenian Genocide remembrance symbol on his uniform during the medal ceremony. Turkey, the perpetrator of the genocide, to this day refuses to admit it happened and could easily challenge a gymnast wearing the symbol in a competition. With Watanabe intending to listen to the opinions of all countries, it is unclear which opinions will prevail.
UPDATE: According to Gymcastic, the FIG has asked Kovtun to no longer wear the jersey in competition, but he will not be penalized for wearing it during podium practice.