A Colombian soccer player playing in the top tier of the game is receiving death threats on social media after he refused to shake hands with a team official when his team lost a controversial match.
Jose Galeano was playing for Morelia when he allegedly refused to shake hands with referee Daniel Calleja, according to the Guardian.
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The Portuguese professional referee accused Morelia of being racially and ethnically prejudiced, and went public about the accusations on Twitter.
After more than a week of tension, and a disputed goalless draw being awarded to Morelia, Calleja sent three Morelia players off, while condemning Colombia’s Atletico Nacional for an illegal strike.
In an interview, the Morelia player said he was forced to refuse the handshake because Calleja’s accusations were “totally unfounded and he called us `racists, nazis, and traitors.'”
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In a video published online, Galeano showed Calleja the regulations governing the handshake before the start of the match, saying the referee had not read it.
In the video, Calleja replied: “If you don’t want to shake my hand, that’s fine.”
When Calleja backed off, Galeano picked up a black flag and waved it, saying: “We are Black Colombians. They want us to go and play in America.”
As the video played on television in Colombia, people watching the game flocked to social media to vent their anger.
“The #patriotic Colombian has spoken. Jose Galeano is undoubtedly our best footballer! We are proud of him! We salute you, one-club player! Unity is the only way!”, said one supporter.
“So proud of #GaleanoJose ?? I am listening to more examples on how respectable Colombians are, and I am a huge fan of former #ATWVLaval ,” commented another.
WARNING: Video contains graphic content, includes strong language
In a statement on their website, Calleja acknowledged that he might have called Morelia names, but denied that racism was a major factor in the events.
“One club that had the right to organize the match was not allowed to do so. During the course of the match the referee and people on the teams’ staff had insulted me with impolitic comments,” he said.
“At first I was accused of being a racist and a bigot, but after observing the incident I understood that had been just wrong,” he added.
But on Sunday the statement has caused a stir.
Atletico Nacional has requested an investigation into the incident and their President discussed the matter with members of the club’s national and regional advisory committees in an emergency meeting.
“We do not tolerate any form of discrimination, racist or in any way racial or similar behaviour that is against the context of the democratic order. This would go against everything we believe and do,” Christian Suarez said on Sunday.
An Open Defecation Day demonstration was held on Monday in Medellin, Colombia, against discrimination, and as part of a broader battle against racism in the country.
Thousands attended the event in Medellin, some 4,000 in the city’s largest public park. Supporters of the event refused to give up until they achieved their demands.
“There is nothing wrong with Colombia, but there are fundamental examples of racism. There is a problem on the side of those football fans and in a society in general, because racism is never justified, it always attacks, stigmatizes or contributes to conflict,” said Portorio Pena, a representative of the International Assembly of Portronics (PIP), which called the march.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.