Last Sunday, gone were the loud cheers and shouts that usually echo through Japan’s Saitama Stadium at home matches. Instead, when the Urawa Red Diamonds walked out onto the field, the team was met with a deafening silence.
To punish a small group of fans for hanging a “Japanese Only” banner in the stadium entranceway at a home game on March 8, the Japanese government ordered the team to play in an empty stadium, according to Time. Though this stunt certainly makes a loud statement against racism, the method itself is both unnecessary and ineffective. The fans, not the team, were the true culprits in this situation.
To be clear, the banner and its implications were indeed racist in nature. The fans said the sole purpose of the banner was to discourage foreigners from sitting in that section, but security guards reported hearing “discriminatory remarks” toward foreigners.
The Urawa Red Diamonds team, however, did step up to the plate, taking effective measures to control and prevent the situation.
More than anything, this seems to be a case of misdirected discipline. The fans were the ones who made the violation, so why should the team be punished to such an extent for a misdemeanor their fans were responsible for? The team officials had already taken effective and reasonable measures by indefinitely banning 20 members of the group responsible for the banners. The team president, in an act to demonstrate his genuine apologies for not having taken down the banners during the game, said he’d give up three months of his salary. In considering this, the team bore its share of the burden. To prevent future recurrences, the team, according to the Bangkok Times, has imposed an indefinite ban on fans displaying banners and flags at both home and away games. The team has shown sincerity in wanting to do right and to combat racism, so there was no reason for last Sunday’s additional embarrassing punishment.
In a brief ceremony before the game on Sunday, team captain Yuki Abe said that the players pledged to “stamp out racism, be it discrimination against race, skin color, gender, language or religion or background, and will not tolerate any discriminatory or insulting language or behavior.” This pledge, though the message is spot-on, could have gotten across easily without emptying the 63,700-capacity stadium, replacing advertisement with signs promoting the United Nation’s Sports of Peace program and canceling the entrance music.
Though the punishment is unprecedented, fans’ misbehavior is not. The Urawa Reds team has been punished for fan misbehavior multiple times in the past, according to the New Straits Times. In 2010, the team was fined $50,000 for their fans’ racist verbal abuse toward the Japanese team Vegalta Sendai’s foreign players. Though this isn’t the first time that the team had to bear the brunt of the punishment, it should certainly be the last — not only because it is ineffective, as evidenced by the recurrence of racial malice, but also because it is unfair to the team.
As Brazil gears up for the 2014 FIFA World Cup this summer, it should definitely learn from the measures taken here to combat racism. After all, it wouldn’t go well if that brand-new, purpose-built stadium of 52,048 capacity to go unappreciated for the sake of a public stunt trying to make an ineffective statement that will show disrespect to the teams and bar peace-loving, soccer-impassioned spectators from coming to enjoy a sport loved by so many cultures and nations.
Valerie Yu is a sophomore majoring in biological sciences and English. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Fridays.