Viktoria Zeynep Gunes. The Ukrainian-Turkish athlete who walked on the Russian flag

Feet above the Russian flag: here is the description of the image that Ukrainian-born swimmer Victoria Solntseva (Zeynep Gunes since taking Turkish citizenship in 2015) shared in the stories of the official Instagram account to show his dissatisfaction with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which has been taking place since February 24.

If, on the one hand, a wave of solidarity and understanding was generated, on the other, this act was anything but admired. Russian Sports Minister Dmitry Shvishev condemned the 23-year-old’s attitude and encouraged the International Swimming Federation (FINA) to investigate the matter, demanding that the swimmer be punished.

“It is really disgusting. I would like to believe that the International Swimming Federation, as well as other relevant organizations, will punish the swimmer for this behavior,” the official clarified. “Our athletes have been punished for their attitudes, and we have here a real impulse of nationalism towards a country. Such provocations must be punished whatever the country to which they are directed and the country represented by the athlete who does it. I think that our union should approach FINA with a request to investigate this case in detail,” he concluded.

In the various social networks, there are those who defend Zeynep and assume that she has reasons to resort to this position. In 2014, she and the rest of her family had to leave Crimea when Russia invaded. Although she has represented Turkey internationally, having already competed under her banner in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, in 2016, and Tokyo, in 2020 (which would take place in the summer of 2021 due to the pandemic ), the 200m freestyle specialist continues to support Ukraine unconditionally.

“We were in Yalta when the Russians came and we were very scared. We immediately returned to Poltava, where we lived, and started a new life. We arrived in Istanbul via kyiv, everything happened in three days. And then we found out that the pool he swam in, in Kyiv, was radioactive,” Zeynep told various media, including Turkey’s Anadolu Agency. “The decision to come to Turkey was not easy, but luckily I succeeded. I feel calmer, happier and more valuable here. After arriving in Turkey, we [ela e a família] we didn’t think about coming back,” he said in July 2016.

Sport as a weapon of political propaganda

In early March, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin announced in a statement that it would immediately and indefinitely suspend Russian national teams and clubs. “Sanctions were necessary. It was not a political issue, it is a humanitarian crisis. My heart cries to punish athletes. It’s not their war, they haven’t decided it, they don’t want it. But we must show unity in the pursuit of peace. We have imposed sports sanctions and dedicated more than a million euros to Ukrainian children and refugees,” he told Corriere della Sera.

But sport has long been a weapon of political propaganda and it is not only in this century that many athletes suffer the consequences of different political regimes. Hitler believed that “the Aryan race” corresponded to a superior people and even before the Second World War, he wanted to demonstrate the superiority of the Germans at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. As, according to him, the Aryans had to be bigger, more stronger, faster and, in short, the best, decided to make the first television show.

However, the plan did not go as planned: Helene Mayer had a gold medal in fencing, but being Jewish caused the Nationalist Party to strip her of her German citizenship. To participate in 1936, an exception was made. Something that did not exist when, three years earlier, she had learned that she had been expelled from the Offenbach fencing club as part of the Nazi purge of Jewish athletes.

In this competition, 89 medals were collected by Germany and 56 by the USA. However, the world’s greatest power at the time was competing with Jesse Owens, an African-American who was a phenom in track and field and won four gold medals: 100 meters; 200 meters; relay 4 by 100 and long jump. Seeing this event as a defeat, after congratulating Hans Wölke, three Finnish athletes and two German athletes, Hitler learned from the President of the International Olympic Committee that as guest of honor he should congratulate all the winners or choose not to congratulate none of them. .

So, faced with the frenzy of photographers, reporters, security guards and the public trying to get closer to the leader of the Nazi regime, he chose not to come down from the podium. When Owens won the medals, the decision was made. “As I passed, the Chancellor stood up and waved to me. I responded at the snap,” Owens claimed, this being the official version of the story, adding that both will even have been photographed behind the grandstand.

Predictably, not everyone believed this happened and so in his biography Owens made it clear that his greatest achievement was not in opposing Nazism, but in having tried to eliminate the racism that was ingrained in every aspect of 19th century American society. XX. So much so that, when asked about the 1936 Olympics, the athlete declared that Adolf Hitler did not surprise him as much as Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“It wasn’t Hitler who ignored me, it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The president didn’t even send me a telegram”, lamented the one who would be considered “the man who destroyed Hitler’s plans” or “the athlete who silenced Hitler and who is a symbol of the fight against racism”, not hiding it. , when he arrived in the United States, he was greeted with joy. But at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, where he was to be honored, he had to use the service elevator, thus again being discriminated against.

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