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Serbian volleyball player makes racist gesture during Thai match

Neill Fronde



PHOTO: Sanja Djurdjevic, the Serbian Volleyball player who made an alleged racist gesture. (via odbojka-volleyball)

A volleyball match in the Nations League is making waves after a Serbian volleyball player made a gesture many considered racist during a game with the Thai team. Sanja Djurdjevic was signalling her teammates during the match when she tugged on the corner of her eyes, narrowing them into a gesture that has often been used as a racist jab at Asian people.

The Serbian volleyball player explained later that the pull at her eye was meant to be a gesture to signal her teammates to tell them to watch and play defence the same way the Thai team was, though she admits it was an irresponsible move.

“I didn’t mean to disrespect anyone. Of course, it was [an] unfortunate and not so smart gesture from my side.”

Sanja posted an apology on Instagram after the incident explaining she made a mistake and apologised to people around the world who might have been offended. She also confirmed that she apologised for the gesture directly to the volleyball players on the Thai team immediately after the game. The Serbian team won the match, hosted in Italy, 3 to 0.

A Facebook apology was also posted by the Serbian Volleyball Federation saying they were deeply saddened by the errant gesture and that it was a simple misunderstanding. The post described the game and general atmosphere between the two teams as friendly. They requested the mishap not be blown out of proportion.

And a player on the Thai volleyball team also spoke out in favour of the Serbian player, telling fans that it was not an intentional racist gesture and asking people to relax and not attack the Serbian volleyball team.

The controversy comes after the Thai team had originally planned on withdrawing from the Volleyball Nations League, a league of 16 national teams. The Volleyball Association of Thailand made the decision after 22 team members and 4 partnering sports scientists were diagnosed with Covid-19 infections. The Association later reversed course and decided to carry on with participation, sending the remaining players that did not have Covid-19.


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Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10 years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.

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