Soccer / J. League

J. League punishes Urawa for discriminatory banner

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

The J. League on Thursday ordered Urawa Reds to play their next home game behind closed doors as punishment for a discriminatory banner that appeared at a match last weekend.

Urawa’s game against Shimizu S-Pulse on March 23 will be played at an empty Saitama Stadium after the league ruled that a banner bearing the words “Japanese Only,” written in English and hung over an entrance to the stands during Reds’ home game against Sagan Tosu last Saturday, could be interpreted as discriminatory regardless of its intent. The banner was not removed until after the game.

The one-match ban is the first time the J. League has ordered a club to play a match behind closed doors.

Urawa is the league’s best-supported club, with an average home attendance last season of over 37,000.

“There are various interpretations of what constitutes discrimination, but the important thing is not the intention but the way it is perceived by the victim,” said J. League chairman Mitsuru Murai. “With that in mind, this case can be considered nothing other than discrimination.

“The exposure this incident has had over the past few days has reverberated around the country and overseas and has done untold damage to the J. League’s image.”

Urawa has been fined for its supporters’ bad behavior in the past, including a mass brawl with Gamba Osaka fans in 2008 and a 2010 game against Vegalta Sendai when Reds fans abused Vegalta’s foreign-born players.

“A section of Urawa Reds’ supporters have been involved in numerous incidents in the past, including racial discrimination, and the club has previously taken action against them,” said Murai.

“The majority of Urawa Reds’ supporters strongly disapprove of the minority’s actions. Urawa Reds have been with the league since it began in 1993 and should be regarded as leaders, and it is very unfortunate that something like this should be allowed to happen.

“I hope Urawa Reds take this punishment very seriously and take strong measures to make sure nothing like this happens again.”

Urawa announced that it will prohibit supporters from displaying banners in all competitions home and away for an indefinite period, starting with Saturday’s game at Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

“For a club with such a long history of supervising banners at our stadium as ours, our failure to react quickly was a problem,” said Urawa president Keizo Fuchita. “I would like to use this severe punishment as a chance to make a fresh start.”

All members of the supporters’ group responsible for Saturday’s banner have been banned indefinitely from attending Urawa’s matches.

Urawa will announce provisions for reimbursing S-Pulse fans who had already bought tickets and made travel arrangements to the March 23 game at a later date.