J.League side Urawa Red Diamonds played before an empty stadium Sunday.
J.League side Urawa Red Diamonds drew 1-1 with Shimizu S-Pulse on Sunday in a game played in an empty stadium as punishment for a racist "Japanese only" banner "put up by hardline fans that deeply embarrassed" the J.League, according to the AFP. League officials hit Japan's best-supported club "with an unprecedented one-game supporter ban over the sign, written in English and hung over an entrance to the stands at a match on March 8." An "eerie atmosphere greeted the players" at the 63,700-capacity Saitama Stadium -- a 2002 World Cup semifinal venue -- "with advertising hoardings replaced by signs promoting the UN's Sports for Peace program and entrance music cancelled." Urawa defender Tomoaki Makino said, "It was a difficult game to play in." Fans heeded Urawa's warning not to gather outside the stadium, "with the train station and park surrounding the ground virtually deserted in the hours before kick-off." Security guards "patrolled the area outside the stadium, which is usually bustling with fans and food and merchandise stalls on match days" (AFP, 3/23
). The AP's Jim Armstrong wrote in handing down the penalty, J.League Chair Mitsuru Murai said the acts "damaged the brand of not just the J.League, but of the entire Japanese football community." Japan's conformist society "has often been criticized at home and abroad for being less accepting of racial and ethnic diversity" (AP, 3/23