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Urawa punished for racist banner

TOKYO -- The J-League has disciplined Japanese club Urawa Reds over the racist behaviour of their fans and ordered the team to play their next home game behind closed doors.

Urawa Reds and their fans put the Asian Champions League on the map.
Urawa Reds fans have been disciplined by the J-League.

Thursday's decision comes after a fan displayed a banner at Urawa's home stadium on Saturday that had the words "Japanese Only" written on it. The sign was put up at a stadium entrance and not removed until after the game.

"These acts have had unexpected social repercussions both domestic and abroad," J-League chairman Mitsuru Murai said in a statement. "It is clear that they have damaged the brand of not just the J-League, but of the entire Japanese football community."

Urawa’s next home game, against Shimizu S-Pulse on March 22, will now be played in front of 63,000 empty seats at Saitama Stadium. The punishment is the stiffest yet to be issued by the 20-year-old J-League.

Most teams in the J-League have several foreign players on their squads, but Urawa did not have a single foreigner in the lineup for Saturday's match, a 1-0 loss to Sagan Tosu, although the team is coached by Serbia's Mihailo Petrovic.

Following Thursday's decision, the team announced it will prohibit supporters from displaying signs and banners of any kind at all home games.

In 2010, Urawa was fined $50,000 when some of its fans taunted foreign players of rival club Vegalta Sendai.

"Reds have had several incidents with their supporters in the past and the club has previously been sanctioned for racist behaviour by their fans," Murai said.

Urawa is one of the best supported clubs in Japan with an average attendance of more than 37,000 last season.

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