The Urawa Red Diamonds, probably one of Japanese top flight football’s (J-League) best supported clubs, had already felt the brunt of the penalty for a discriminatory banner that was hung in Saitama Stadium on March 8 – they had to play their March 23 fixture in an empty stadium. But the club officials are staunch in their defense that there was no racism and discrimination intended at the “Japanese Only” banner that was hung at an entrance – an image that has certainly made its rounds on social media – and theories are still surfacing as to the motive behind the banner.
The Urawa Reds’ club officials maintain that the banner was to prevent foreigners from entering that section and disrupting group cheers. This is certainly a valid reason, and some Reds fans stand by it. “It was not racial discrimination,” says the manager of a restaurant frequented by Reds fans. “Last year, a lot of foreigners started filling up the stands behind the north goal. They’d come to take photos of the other fans and drink alcohol. They were out of control. So that’s the reason.” But one could argue that there were other ways – certainly more official and less loud – to accomplish this than a fan-made banner.
According to some tabloids, the banner was put there by three members of an Urawa Reds fan group calling itself UB Snake. “They are a hard-nosed bunch, known for their passionate cheering,” says a Reds fan. “The leader is a good-looking guy under the age of 40 who works for the Saitama City Office.” The anonymous fan also reveals that some young members of UB Snake have voiced out anti-Korean sentiments before. “In this case, it was certainly a discriminatory banner,” the fan voiced out his opinion.
Still another soccer journalist says that the banner may have been a veiled insult to Korean player Tadanari Lee, who is in his first year with the Reds. “The Urawa supporters booed and jeered him in the opening game,” says the journalist. The journalist also points to the club itself, as the official monthly magazine of the Urawa Reds had included a comment from a fan that said real Urawa fans don’t like Koreans. The journalist says that one could argue that the club “committed the same offense.” Be that as it may, the club had already suffered a major dent to its pockets, with the spectator-less March 23 game – which incidentally resulted in a 1-1 draw with Shimizu S-Pulse – costing the Reds over 300 million yen (about US$2.9 million) in ticket sales and revenue. Most people are saying that the cub had it coming, and look to both the club and its supporters as having failed to handle this incident in a manner that was not disgraceful to the club and to the league.
[via Tokyo Reporter]