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Players push for more action against racism scourge

by Andrew Mckirdy

STAFF WRITER

Urawa Reds striker Tadanari Lee has urged Japanese soccer to follow the Premier League’s zero-tolerance attitude toward racism after taking part in the first J. League game to be played behind doors.

Urawa drew 1-1 with Shimizu S-Pulse on Sunday at an empty Saitama Stadium after the J. League handed the club an unprecedented one-game supporter ban for a “Japanese only” banner hung by fans over an entrance to a stand at a game earlier this month.

Lee, who joined Urawa from English side Southampton at the start of the year, has suffered racist abuse in the past as a Zainichi Korean born and raised in Tokyo, and applauded the J. League’s efforts to tackle discrimination in Japanese stadiums.

“Of course there are times when I feel it,” said Lee, who scored Japan’s winning goal in the 2011 Asian Cup final. “One thing I can say is that sport is not something to bring discrimination into. I’m a football player and all I want to do is play football. I’d really like this kind of thing to stop.

“When this kind of incident (the Urawa fans’ banner) happens in the Premier League, even if it’s just a small thing they come down really hard on it. The clubs are really good about that over there.”

Sunday’s match was played in a surreal atmosphere at the 63,700-capacity World Cup venue, with advertising hoardings stripped out and signs promoting the U.N.’s Sports for Peace program on prominent display.

“I’d like people to have a greater awareness of this issue,” said Lee. “Through the media, a lot of people know what this game was all about and why it happened. We wore the Sports for Peace T-shirts and we were happy to play our part. Hopefully we can keep doing so.”

S-Pulse defender Calvin Jong-a-Pin says he encountered racism as a black man growing up in the Netherlands, and backed the J. League’s decision to crack down on Urawa.

“I’ve been here for 2½ years, and I heard that the fans did it more times and they just got fined now by the J. League,” said Jong-a-Pin. “I think they had to do it at some point to kick out racism in soccer.

“It’s something that you have to deal with in life. I feel that everybody has to deal with it in some kind of way. I’m black, women have it in jobs, big clubs, small clubs — you just have to make a difference to go through that and be strong.”

J. League chairman Mitsuru Murai stressed on announcing the punishment that Urawa’s failure to remove the banner before the March 8 game against Sagan Tosu had ended made the club just as culpable as the fans who displayed it.

Jong-a-Pin believes standing up to racism is not always easy, but congratulated the J. League for setting an example to others.

“I think it’s part of the culture,” said the 27-year-old. “The culture is all about keeping respect and being polite to each other. Sometimes things happen and they keep a different face.

“But like I said, racism happens every day and it happened in Urawa two weeks ago and we just have to battle it. I stand behind the decision that the J. League made.”