A two-time Olympic gold medallist has been banned from competing because of his support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russian Olympic gold medallist Evgeny Rylov has been banned from competing for the rest of the year by swimming’s world governing body.
Rylov, who won gold medals in the 100m and 200m backstroke at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, has been suspended for nine months for his support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The 25-year-old raised eyebrows when he attended a rally organised as a mass show of support for the war, and even appeared on stage before President Vladimir Putin gave a speech.
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Las month Rylov was dropped by his sponsor Speedo, which said it would donate his sponsorship dollars to the United Nations Refugee Agency, which is helping relocate Ukrainians who have been forced to flee because of Russia’s widely-condemned military invasion.
Rylov was pictured among other high-profile athletes wearing the “Z” war symbol but there is a belief some of those at the stadium were forced into going against their will.
Now FINA, swimming’s governing body, has banned Rylov for the rest of the year — meaning he won’t be allowed to swim at the world championships in Budapest, Hungary in June.
FINA said in a statement: “The FINA Bureau met today and acknowledged the decision of the FINA Disciplinary Panel to suspend Evgeny Rylov (RUS) from all competitions and activities organised or sanctioned by FINA, including any International Competition on the FINA World Aquatic Calendar, for a period of nine months, following Mr. Rylov’s attendance and conduct at an event held at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on 8 March 2022.
“Mr. Rylov’s suspension took effect on 20 April 2022.”
FINA also followed Wimbledon in introducing a ban on athletes from Russia and Belarus from competing at any official championships this year.
It said: “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.
“This confirmation follows the FINA Bureau’s approval of key measures on 8 March 2022 to protect FINA events and athlete welfare.
“These previous decisions included cancelling FINA events in Russia, and the non-invitation of Russian and Belarusian teams through to the 19th FINA World Championships Budapest 2022.”
The world championships, as well as the world junior titles, were due be held in the Russian city of Kazan but both were relocated after several countries said they would boycott.
Rylov boasts eight world championship medals and won dual gold at last year’s Olympics, to go with his bronze in the 200m backstroke at the 2016 Rio Games.
He was at the centre of controversy in Japan when American rival Ryan Murphy made explosive accusations and complained about Russia not being punished severely enough for running a state sponsored doping program — with Rylov sitting right next to him at a press conference.
“I’ve got 15 thoughts, 13 of them would get me into a lot of trouble,” Murphy said at the time.
“It is what it is. I try not to get caught up in that. It is a huge mental drain on me to go throughout the year, that I am swimming in a race that’s probably not clean and that is what it is.
“I don’t have the bandwidth to train for the Olympics at a very high level and try to lobby the people who are making the decisions that they’re making the wrong decisions.
“The people that know a lot more about the situation made the decision they did. It frustrates me, but I have to swim the field that’s next to me.”
Rylov defended himself in the face of the complaints.
“I always do the doping tests … I would not be able to forgive myself if I had taken something,” he said.
“I don’t know how to react to this. I haven’t been accused of anything.”