SANTACRUZ, Bolivia (Reuters) – Being subjected to racist taunts not only prompted Brazilian winger Serginho to walk off the pitch during a Bolivian league match but also left him questioning his future in the sport.
As supporters from home club Blooming made monkey noises and shouted racial abuse at Serginho during the match on March 17, the Jorge Wilstermann player decided to make a stand by leaving the pitch in the 84th minute.
However, while racism against players in Europe has been widely condemned in recent weeks – with UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin saying referees will be told to halt matches when players are subjected to racial abuse – Serginho has been criticised in some quarters for his actions.
Recalling the abuse, the 34-year old Brazilian told Reuters: “(The fans) told me I had to go back to the jungle, asked if I wanted a banana, said I was a monkey.
“This makes you feel powerless. I simply left the pitch. And to be honest I wanted to leave, and not go back to the game or any match in the future.”
Blooming, who currently sit joint top of the Bolivian first division, were winning the match 2-0 and they continued the game to secure all three points.
Bolivia’s president Evo Morales expressed his solidarity with the player, as did Blooming coach, Erwin Sanchez.
However, Blooming’s club president Juan Jordan defended the actions of his club’s fans by saying chants were part of football’s “folklore” and also called on the Bolivian Football Federation to hand a 12-month ban to Serginho for winding up opposing supporters.
Serginho and his club both filed formal complaints.
“I’m certain that I have been disrespected twice,” Serginho said. “First by the fans and now by the rival club.”
(Reporting by Santiago Limachi, Monica Machicao, Miguel Lobianco, Writing by Andrew Downie, editing by Pritha Sarkar)