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FINA bans swim star over Putin rally

Russian Olympic dual gold medallist Evgeny Rylov has been banned from the sport for nine months for appearing at a rally in support of President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Rylov stood on stage with medallists from other Olympic sports at the event last month and wore a jacket with a “Z” on the chest. 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 Russian armoured vehicles operating in Ukraine.

A brief statement from swimming’s world governing body, FINA, on Thursday said it “acknowledged” an earlier, as-yet unpublished ruling from a disciplinary panel to ban Rylov “following Mr. Rylov’s attendance and conduct at an event held at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.”

Rylov was the star of Russia’s swim team at the Olympics in Tokyo last year with two backstroke gold medals.

His ban began Wednesday and covers any international competition. The effect on Rylov is likely to be mostly symbolic since FINA also extended its decision to exclude competitors from Russia and its ally Belarus from all international events for the remainder of 2022.

FINA previously banned Russia and Belarus from the world championships in Hungary and June and July but left it possible for them to enter other events. At the time, FINA said Russia planned to boycott all international events anyway, something Russia denied. That position has now been clarified.

“The Bureau also confirmed its position that Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials will not be invited to any FINA event through the end of 2022,” FINA said on Thursday. FINA’s remit covers a range of aquatic sports including swimming, diving, water polo and artistic swimming.

The Kremlin condemned FINA’s decision to suspend Rylov

“We believe this is absolutely contrary to the ideas of sport,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “When the strongest (competitors) lose the opportunity to participate, this ultimately harms international federations and international competitions.”

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