Urawa Reds will face unprecedented punishments, it was announced on Thursday, as the J-League attempts to recover from an embarrassing scandal.
The ruling by league chairman Mitsuru Murai came just five days after a banner reading 'JAPANESE ONLY' was hung next to a Japanese flag in the concourse of Saitama Stadium.
“Since becoming chairman [in January] I have repeatedly stated a need for J-League clubs to attract new fans, regardless of gender, age, or nationality,” Murai wrote in a statement posted to the league’s website.
“[Global] reaction to this incident has been beyond anything we could have imagined, and it has caused great damage to the image of both the J-League and Japanese football. I am incredibly ashamed that a club with a history dating back to the J-League’s founding and who are considered a leader in Japanese football, would allow their supporters to commit such acts.”
In a first for Japan, the 2007 AFC Champions League winners will be forced to play their next home game, on March 23 against Shimizu S-Pulse, behind closed doors. The financial burden resulting from the decision is expected to cost the Reds over US$1 million in revenue.
Club officials announced bans from all official games for the supporter group responsible for the banner. The group announced its disbandment to the club on March 12.
In addition, Urawa Reds will prohibit the display of any flags or banners by its supporters until new rules can be established. A similar action was taken by Jubilo Iwata in 2012 following a discriminatory banner aimed at Shimizu S-Pulse coach Afshin Ghotbi.
At a press conference to announce the sanctions, Urawa chairman Keizo Fuchita bowed deeply to reporters before answering questions from reporters.
“[The supporters who created the banner] said that because the home end is a ‘sacred location’, they wanted to keep others out,” Fuchita said. “They were upset at not being able to regulate the increasing number of foreign tourists coming to the area.”
In a timeline published on the Urawa Reds website, both club staff and officials from a private firm contracted to provide security at Saitama Stadium were revealed to have had several conversations with the supporters over the removal of the banner. Though it was first spotted by a staff member at roughly 3:30PM and ordered removed by team officials at 5:09PM, the banner was not taken down until the conclusion of the match at 6:04PM.
In recognition of team staff’s failure to act in a proper or expeditious manner during the incident, Fuchita also announced that he would relinquish 20 percent of his salary over the next three months. Punishments for the staff involved in the incident are still under discussion.