Urawa Reds punished

23 March ~ There was some controversy to the second round of the new J-League season in the shape of an incident at the March 8 game between giants Urawa Reds and Sagan Tosu at Reds' home Saitama Stadium. During the match photographs started circulating on Twitter of a banner hung in the bowels of the stand over the entrance to a home fans' area of seating, which read (in English) "Japanese Only". While it's hardly unusual for Twitter to act as a forum for shock and outrage, Japanese and foreign fans alike were united in their condemnation of what was interpreted as a racist statement.

At the following day's J2 games supporters of FC Gifu and Consadole Sapporo responded by displaying anti-racism banners, stressing that all were welcome at their clubs' games. Fans of Yokohama F Marinos followed suit at their midweek Asian Champions League tie against Guangzhou Evergrande.

While Twitter initially drove the story, the mainstream media at the start of the week were tentative in their coverage, using wording to the effect that the banner "could be interpreted" as racist. To that extent, it's surprising how quickly both the J-League and Urawa Reds themselves have responded to the incident.

The League declared that Reds will have to play today's home league match against Shimizu S-Pulse behind closed doors. For their part Urawa announced that the supporters' group to which the fan who brought the banner belonged have been ordered to disband. All of them have been banned from attending Reds games for life. For the foreseeable future no homemade banners will be allowed at any Reds games, including those of Urawa Reds Ladies. Moreover a group of senior club employees have had their salaries reduced for the next three months. Mike Innes

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