During the FIVB Volleyball Women’s Nations League match on Tuesday evening against the Thai women’s team in Italy, player Sanja Djurdjevic stretched both eyelids apart after winning a point. Screenshots and clips made their way online and anger built over the derogatory gesture, which is generally used to mock people of Asian descent.
“I am aware of my mistake and I immediately after the match apologized to the whole Thailand team,” Djurdjevic said in two Instagram posts, which also featured a photo of teammates from both countries posing together after the match. “I only wanted to address my teammates with the message: ‘now, we will start playing defense like them’, I didn’t mean to disrespect anyone.”
She added that the gesture was “unfortunate” and “not so smart,” while apologizing again to “all people all over the world who are offended by this.” Djurdjevic also thanked the Thai team for understanding, an apparent reference to a video filmed by one of the players as a show of reconciliation.
The Volleyball Federation of Serbia also apologized to Thailand’s team, but appealed to critics to not “blow this out of proportion” and called it a “simple misunderstanding.”
“We apologize sincerely to the Thailand team, people of Thailand and to all of you affected by this,” the federation said in a statement posted on Facebook.
The Facebook page of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League was also flooded with comments about the incident.
This isn’t the first time that the Serbian women’s team has gotten called out for making the gesture. The whole squad did it in a team photo during the 2018 FIVB Women’s World Championship in Japan.
In an attempt to address the new controversy and lower tensions, Thai player Pleumjit Thinkaow took to Instagram in a video alongside Djurdjevic, who waved and took off her mask to blow a kiss at the camera.
The video has been viewed more than 437,000 times and Pleumjit was praised online for her generous and forgiving response.
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