Soccer officials in Japan have found a new way to combat racism after a banner designating a “Japanese only” stadium entrance was hung up earlier this month.
In accordance with a zero-tolerance policy, much like that of the English Premier League, the top tier of the Japan Professional Football League, the J-League, will play to empty stadiums if the behavior continues.
On March 8, Urawa Reds fans hung a "Japanese only" banner in their stadium, and officials didn't take it down until the game was over, alleging they saw nothing racist about it.
Amid rising concerns that Japanese nationalism promoted by First Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is tainting the sport, the J-League had the Urawa Reds and Shimizu S-Pulse play in the empty Saitama Stadium, a World Cup venue with 63,700 seats, on Sunday.
Urawa Reds striker Tadanari Lee, a Zainichi Korean born and raised in Tokyo, applauded the J-League for cracking down on racism in Japanese stadiums.
“Of course there are times when I feel it,” Lee told the Japan Times. “One thing I can say is that sport is not something to bring discrimination into. I’m a football player and all I want to do is play football. I’d really like this kind of thing to stop.”
Lee said the Premier League “comes down really hard” on racism “even if it’s just a small thing.”
“I’d like people to have a greater awareness of this issue,” said Lee. “Through the media, a lot of people know what this game was all about and why it happened. We wore the Sports for Peace T-shirts and we were happy to play our part. Hopefully we can keep doing so.”
S-Pulse defender Calvin Jong-a-Pin, who grew up in the Netherlands, was no stranger to racism.
Jong-a-Pin said, "racism happens every day and it happened in Urawa two weeks ago and we just have to battle it. I stand behind the decision that the J. League made."
Japan is currently fighting with China and South Korea over historical and territorial claims.