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Russian swimming champion Evgeny Rylov has been suspended nine months by the sport's governing body for appearing at a rally in support of President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine.
Rylov, who won gold medals in the 100 and 200m backstroke events at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, was among several athletes who attended a massive rally at Moscow's Luzhniki stadium last month hosted by Putin.
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The swimmer could be seen sporting a 'Z' symbol on his jacket, which has become synonymous with supporters of Russia's war efforts.
The letter isn’t part of the Russian alphabet but has become a symbol of support for Russian troops after it was used as a marker on armoured vehicles operating in Ukraine.
On Thursday, swimming's governing body FINA announced that Rylov has been suspended for the next nine months.
FINA said the suspension came "following Mr. Rylov's attendance and conduct at an event held at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow".
Rylov's ban began on Wednesday and covers all international competitions.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach indicated his support for disciplinary measures against athletes such as Rylov.
“The IOC president made it clear that the IOC supports sanctions against anybody in the Olympic community who is in support of the war, and continues to monitor the situation,” the IOC said on Friday in a statement on a meeting Bach held with Ukrainian sports officials.
The ban appears largely symbolic since FINA has already barred competitors from Russia and Belarus from all international events for the remainder of 2022.
Rylov has also lost his sponsorship deal with swimwear maker Speedo over his presence at the rally.
He told the Sport Express newspaper that his lawyers were reviewing the case, but it was still unclear whether they would appeal his suspension.
Russia fumes over Evgeny Rylov suspension
The Kremlin said FINA's decision showed the "politicisation 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) lose 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 politicised".
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 also cancelled all events that were set to take place in Russia this year.
There has been no word of any disciplinary investigations against other Russian athletes from sports including figure skating, gymnastics and skiing who also appeared at the March 18 rally.
Rightly so, if it doesn't hurt, Russia will never stop. Shame on him, given his extensive international exposure.
— Alicci Ducce (@AlicciDucce) April 22, 2022
Let's make it a permanent ban.
— Marshall 🇺🇦 (@reyherphoto) April 22, 2022
It’s only a 9 month ban. Should be much longer. Anyone supporting Russia’s war should immediately lose their privileges for a very long time. Pleased he lost his sponsor too. 👏
— Deb🇺🇦🏴🇦🇺 (@Deb37980811) April 23, 2022
Only 9 months?
It should be permanent
— Barbara Levitan (@BarbaraLevitan) April 22, 2022
Mr Putin is endangering the entire world with this horrific war. We must ALL take a stand and show this dictatorial bullying is unacceptable. Evgeny Rylov made his position clear. Speedo is doing the same. I applaud them!
— Schicksalslenker (@Schicksalslenk1) March 22, 2022
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