Paraguayan forward Santiago Salcedo has been a prolific marksman for teams in all corners of the globe since his early outings for hometown club Cerro Porteno. The 29-year-old represented his country at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2001, but it was at the Copa Libertadores 2005 that he really made his name on the international stage, scoring nine goals for El Ciclón to finish as the tournament’s top scorer.  

Salcedo’s impressive progress since then should come as no surprise. His career has taken him to clubs in Turkey, Japan, Mexico and Argentina, playing for such illustrious sides as Newell’s Old Boys, River Plate and Lanus. Salcedo now turns out for Argentinos Juniors in Buenos Aires, where caught up with him for an exclusive interview.

The forward shared his concerns about discrimination in football and spoke out about the behaviour of fans both inside and outside the stadium. He also described a lack of respect between fellow professionals and suggested possible solutions for ridding the sport of racism. Santiago, how would you define discrimination?
Santiago Salcedo:
As an act of stupidity – nothing more, nothing less. It's an act of stupidity carried out by stupid people.

When did you first realise that discrimination was so prevalent in football?
To be honest, I realised as soon as I entered the game. I’m talking about discrimination in the world of football, not outside of it. You find that you get used to people saying offensive things to you on the pitch, which is really dreadful.   

What is the most common insult you hear in these on-field exchanges?
“F****** Paraguayan.” This one always comes up in normal conversations during matches. And I respond to it – of course I do. I don’t stay quiet. But this doesn’t just happen in Argentina. It happens everywhere. Sadly, this kind of thing is very common between footballers. We’re wrong to do it, because we’re supposed to be setting an example.

There needs to be a very thorough analysis of the situation in question. Drastic measures need to be taken, but they also need to be well thought out.

Santiago Salcedo on discrimination in football

You’re in a country that has opened many doors for you, but at the same time has countless fans who aim abusive chants at Paraguayans. This must seem like a real contradiction. How do you feel when you hear such chants during matches?
You think about how stupid they are, and that’s the truth. Sadly, I think you get used to that kind of thing when you’re out on the pitch. Having said that, when you watch it happen on TV it’s a different story altogether.

Can you give us an example?
A while back I was watching a clásico between Boca and Independiente on TV. Independiente’s fans started making chants about Paraguayans and began to throw umbrellas onto the pitch. It made me feel very uncomfortable. In Paraguay, we watch a lot of Argentinian football and I couldn’t help but think about how my fellow countrymen would have felt when they saw those images. I have a one-year-old son, and fortunately he’s too young to understand what’s happening. But if he were to ask me, I would find it very difficult to explain situations like that.

What did you do at that moment?
Nothing. I just sat at home and felt bad about it. It seemed so stupid to me; Independiente had won a big derby match against Racing Club de Avellaneda just a few days earlier thanks to a goal from a Paraguayan player [Cristian Baez]. The club’s all-time leading goalscorer, Arsenio Erico, was also born in Paraguay. So why do they do it? It’s inexplicable. They’re stupid, if you don’t mind me saying so.

Have you ever been the victim of discrimination away from the pitch?
No, never. I’m fortunate in that I’ve always been treated fantastically well outside of football.

How do you explain the way fans change their behaviour when they’re in football stadiums?
I don’t know. It really is ridiculous. The fans who shout abuse are the same who ask you to take photos with their children or sign their shirts, which are often opposition shirts. There is absolutely no explanation for it.

What measures should be taken to eliminate the kinds of situations you’ve described?
I don’t know, but there needs to be a very thorough analysis of the situation in question. On one hand it’s a positive thing that matches are stopped whenever fans start making racist chants. But on the other hand, if you apply the rules too rigidly you’ll end up having to stop seven or eight matches every week. This is not fair on the club or the players. Drastic measures need to be taken, but they also need to be well thought out.

If you had to give a message to those who behave inappropriately in stadiums, what would you say to them?
I would ask them what kind of example they think it sets for their children. Beyond that, I prefer to just ignore them. This says more than anything else. Thankfully, I’ve been raised differently to them and I know the kind of person I am. As I always say, I’m very proud to be Paraguayan.