The J-League has imposed its harshest penalty on any team in its entire 21-year history on the Urawa Reds, requiring them to play their next home game to an empty Saitama Stadium. This is the team’s punishment for allowing aracist banner to be displayed at the entrance are for home fans in their first game last March 8.
The league organizers said that the Reds will be playing without their spectators on March 23 in the match against Shimizu S-Pulse and will also receive an official reprimand for not immediately taking down the banner saying “Japanese Only” which was put up by some fans at the concourse level entrance gate. Even though several fans already complained about the banner, which was written on English, it was only removed after the match. The J-league has nine levels of penalties, but only the two lowest, a reprimand and a fine, have always been imposed. They bypassed level 3, giving up a home game, to impose this level 4 fine. Previously, the heaviest penalty has been a fine of 20 million yen on Omiya Ardija for falsifying attendance records.
Urawa Reds chairman Mitsuru Murai said it is “regretable” that the actions of a few has now affected all the fans. The accused who put up the banner denied that there was anydiscriminatory message to their sign, but club officials said a punishment is still in order, regardless of their intent. The investigation is still underway, but those that will be proven to be involved are facing a ban on the club’s future matches for both home and away games. The club is also considering punishment for the staff members that allowed the banner to be displayed for an hour before taking it down. They did not think there was any discriminatory message at first and only took action when several fans complained about it.