A Serbia volleyball star has been banned for two matches and fined for making a racist gesture during a game against Thailand last week – and the country’s federation has called on the public not to “blow this out of proportion”.
A petition was launched by outraged viewers after Sanja Djurdjevic was seen narrowing her eyes with her fingers before laughing at her gesture in a game against Italy last week, with some even claiming the footage was a reflection of a reported rise in hate incidents directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
Djurdjevic, who was said to have apologized on her Instagram account before setting it to private, will now miss her nation’s matches against Belgium and Canada as a result of what the Volleyball Federation of Serbia called a “simple misunderstanding”.
The federation has been fined more than $22,000 in a punishment that is expected to be used to fund a cause “tackling discriminatory behaviour” and backing “educational programmes on cultural sensitivity”.
“Please don’t blow this out of proportion,” said a federation post on Facebook, apologizing to Thailand, the Thailand team and “all of you affected by this”.
“Sanja is aware of her mistake and she immediately apologized to the whole Thailand team. She only wanted to show her teammates ‘let’s start playing defense like them now’.
“She didn’t mean any disrespect. Of course, it was unfortunate.”
There is zero place for this kind of behaviour in sport or in life. So it should be a zero tolerance policy. The answer is simple @volleyballworld the organisers should send the Serbia team home, removed from the tournament, so as it never happens again.
— Pasha (@Mr_ISC) June 3, 2021
Thailand superstar Pleumjit Thinkaow was described by some fans as an “angel” after posing with Djurdjevic in an Instagram video after the game, when the Serb player was said to have been upset about the incident.
Djurdjevic took off her mask and blew a kiss as part of the clip, which Thinkaow shared with her following of more than a million on the social media platform.
Angry viewers voiced their fury, with some revisiting a scandal in 2018 when the Serbian women’s team was accused of making racist eye gestures in a group photo after reaching that year’s FIVB Women’s World Championship in Japan.
“A Serbian player does a racist gesture of ‘slant eye’ towards Thailand’s volleyball players in the FIVB [tournament],” said one, calling on bosses to take action.
“This behavior is disgusting and should not be condoned. This isn’t the first time either.”
Another told Djurdjevic: “Your actions are not cute. You are a national team athlete – why are you reacting to Asian people like this?”