Update June 9: The International Volleyball Federation, or FIVB, announced that it suspended Djurdjevic for two matches and fined The Volleyball Federation of Serbia.
Serbia’s volleyball federation apologized to Thai players last night for a racist gesture made on the court but urged Thais not to “blow this out of proportion.”
The Volleyball Federation of Serbia apologized to Thailand’s team and fans after Serbian player Sanja Djurdjevic drew two fingers to the side of her face to make the “slanty eyes” gesture – on television – to mock a Thai player’s failure to score a point.
The Serbian federation said Djurdjevic was remorseful for her “unfortunate gesture” but “didn’t mean any disrespect.” The apology described the gesture as “unfortunate” rather than acknowledging its roots in racism.
“We apologize sincerely to the Thailand team, people of Thailand and to all of you affected by this,” the federation wrote. “But, please, don’t blow this out of proportion! 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.”
“It all ended up as a simple misunderstanding, in a friendly atmosphere between the players of the two teams,” it added.
Thai player Pleumjit Thinkaow, who was the object of Djurdjevic’s gesture, posted a video with Djurdjevic and said she had accepted the Serbian’s apology.
“Everyone. [Djurdjevic] walked to our room. She said she was so stressed. She said she didn’t have the intention [to offend us]. Please forgive her,” Pleumjit wrote in Thai.
There were hundreds of angry responses rejecting the apology.
“The Thai volleyball player is kind enough to forgive you but your behavior and racism are unacceptable,” Facebooker Kantamat Kueanpim wrote. “Asian had been dealing with this stuff for years. If you don’t know about this ‘unfortunate gesture’ and ‘didn’t mean any disrespect’ Educate yourself.”
Some viewers called out Djurdjevic’s behavior as “unacceptable” and asked the international volleyball competition to sanction her.
“Dear @volleyballworld This behavior from a Serbian player is unacceptable. Racism has no place in volleyball world. It’s 2021 fgs,” @MiiPiiR tweeted.
Nor was it the first time. The team drew flak in 2017 after the entire team made the same gesture in an official photo released by International Volleyball Federation, or FIVB, after learning they were heading to Japan.
Thailand came out 0-3 in three matches against Serbia held in Rimini, Italy, as part of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League, which kicked off Friday.
Today, Team Thailand faces the USA at 5pm (BKK Time). The matches will be shown live on Channel 3.
A number of people discussing the incident online used the hashtag #StopAsianHate in reference to pandemic-era violence and discrimination against Asians, particularly Asian-Americans. The movement began to gain traction in February after the murder of an elderly Thai man, Vicha Ratanapakdee, in San Francisco.