Japan's Urawa take point in empty stadium after racist sign
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.
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 semi-final venue -- with advertising hoardings replaced by signs promoting the UN's Sports for Peace programme and entrance music cancelled.
S-Pulse striker Shun Nagasawa opened the scoring in the 19th minute before Urawa's Genki Haraguchi slammed home an equaliser in the 76th minute.
Fans heeded Urawa's warning not to gather outside the stadium, and the train station and park outside the ground were virtually deserted in the hours before kick-off.
Security guards patrolled the area outside the stadium, which bustles with fans and food and merchandise stalls on match days.
Urawa captain Yuki Abe led his teammates -- all wearing Sports for Peace shirts -- onto the pitch after arriving at the stadium to deliver a pledge to combat racism.
"Urawa Reds, as a member of the football family, pledge to fully abide by FIFA's vow to stamp out racism, be it discrimination against race, skin colour, gender, language or religion or background, and will not tolerate any discriminatory or insulting language or behaviour," said the statement.
"We have the power to stamp out racism from sports and from society. Through the bonds that connect us through football, we pledge to fight racism."
Urawa president Keizo Fuchita has said the banner was a warning to foreign visitors to stay away from the hardcore supporters' "sacred ground" at the stadium.
Urawa, the former J-League and Asian champions with an average home gate of more than 37,000 last season, have been punished several times in the past for fan misbehaviour.
Fans brawled with rival supporters and then penned them inside the stadium in 2008, and the club was fined $50,000 in 2010 over racist abuse yelled at Vegalta Sendai's overseas players.
Urawa have imposed an indefinite ban on fans displaying banners and flags at home and away games.
The club has also indefinitely locked out all members of the supporters' group responsible for the banner, and promised root-and-branch reform to stamp out crowd trouble.