March 26, 2014
Japanese soccer officials have found a novel way to prevent racist behavior in the stands: Don’t let the fans show up.
Officials ordered one of the top teams in Japan’s professional J-League to play in an empty stadium Sunday as punishment for a “Japanese only” banner that fans displayed during a game in Tokyo earlier this month.
That incident came amid rising concerns in Japan over nationalist sentiments. Japan is mired in ugly disputes with neighboring China and South Korea over territorial claims and historical issues.
Officials of the Urawa Red Diamonds team said a small group of supporters hung a “Japanese only” banner in a stadium entranceway during a home game on March 8. They said the banner was to discourage foreigners from sitting in that section and disrupting group cheers; security guards later reported hearing “discriminatory remarks” toward foreigners.
Team officials said they did not remove the banner until after the game because, initially, they did not deem it racist or discriminatory. The issue went viral after fans posted photos of the banner online.
Urawa Reds’ officials later apologized and said they had banned about 20 members of a supporters’ group. The team president said he would return three months’ salary as a show of responsibility.
That wasn’t good enough for league officials, however. They ordered Urawa Reds to play their next home game — Sunday — in an empty stadium.