The Urawa Red Diamonds, one of Japan’s best-supported football clubs played to an empty stadium on Sunday, drawing 1-1 with Shimizu S-Pulse in the aftermath of the J-League’s harshest punishments for a club in years. The empty stadium match was the club’s punishment after some supporters displayed a xenophobic banner, putting up a “Japanese Only” sign in the entrance to the stadium.
The 63,000-seater Saitama Stadium only had several journalists and security staff on hand in what is the first time that the league has handed down this kind of punishment, their harshest in its 20-year history. All advertisements at the stadium were replaced with those promoting the UN’s Sports for Peace program. Before the match, the players wore shirts that pledged to fight racism and club captain, Yuki Abe, read a statement saying they abide by FIFA’s fight against racism, “be it discrimination against race, skin colour, gender, language or religion or background.” The statement also said that they will not tolerate “discriminatory or insulting language or behaviour.” J-League chairman Mitsuru Murai said that this incident did not only damage the league but “the entire Japanese football community” as well.
Club matches at the stadium average around 37,000 home fans and the players had a tough time playing to an “eerie atmosphere.” The visiting team scored first in the 19th minute with a goal by S-Pulse striker Shun Nagasawa but in the second half, the Reds found their rhythm and Genki Haraguchi got the equalizer in the 76th minute. Defender Tomoaki Makino admits that it was very difficult for the team. “Players were motivated, but it was the little things like having no music before the game that made the difference,” he said.
[ via BBC ]