Russian karting driver Artem Severiukhin, 15, has denied making a Nazi salute atop a podium on Sunday.
The youngster won his event at the FIA Karting European Championship in Portimão, Portugal, and video footage posted online showed him hitting his chest and holding his right arm out while the Italian national anthem played during the podium ceremony.
Severiukhin – who was competing under an Italian license after motorsport’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), banned drivers from racing under the Russian flag amid the invasion of Ukraine – then laughed with people from the crowd who were off camera.
In a video message sent to CNN by the Russian Automobile Federation (RAF), Severiukhin said he wanted to apologize but said he did not make a Nazi salute.
“It is not true, I have never supported Nazis. I consider it one of the worst crimes against humanity,” he said, adding he was celebrating with people in the crowd.
“I know I am a fool and I’m ready to be punished but please believe that there was no intention in my actions. There was no support of Nazism or racism.”
The FIA confirmed it had opened an immediate investigation into the “unacceptable conduct” and said it would “communicate shortly on the further steps that will be taken in this case.”
The RAF said it was aware of the incident and stated it considered unacceptable “even an accidental manifestation of fascism and Nazism in Russian motorsport and among Russian athletes.”
Severiukhin had been competing for Ward Racing and the Swedish team condemned his actions, adding that it was terminating his contract.
“The pilots of the team are not united by country or other categories. Most of the pilots do not represent the national team of any country, rather act individually,” said an official statement posted on Ward Racing’s Instagram Monday.
“Ward Racing accordingly condemns the personal actions of pilot Artem Severyukhin during the award ceremony on April 10, 2022 in the strongest possible terms, as it considers them a manifestation of unsportsmanlike behavior, an unacceptable violation of the ethical and moral sports codex.
“With this statement, Ward Racing expresses its opinion, as well as the opinion of all athletes and staff of the Ward Racing team. On the basis of these considerations, Ward Racing sees no possibility for continued cooperation with Artem Severyukhin and will proceed with terminating his racing contract.
“Finally, Ward Racing would like to apologize to those who were hurt or distressed by the occurrence.”