SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — Saitama Stadium was eerily quiet Sunday as hosts Urawa Reds were forced to play behind closed doors due to racist behavior by some of their fans.
Under the stiffest punishment yet to be issued by the 20-year-old J-League, Urawa and Shimizu S-Pulse played Sunday's game before 63,000 empty seats. Other than a handful of journalists and security staff, the stadium was completely empty.
The harsh ruling came after a fan displayed a banner at Urawa's home stadium two weeks ago that bore the words "Japanese Only" written on it. The sign was put up at a stadium entrance but wasn't removed until after the March 8 game.
Shun Nagasawa scored in the 19th minute for Shimizu and Genki Haraguchi equalized after the break as the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
"To be honest, I didn't enjoy this game," Shimizu's Iranian-American coach Afshin Ghotbi said. "It didn't have fans, it didn't have a voice. The contest was good but poor at times because it didn't have the energy of the fans. I hope it's the last time to play before an empty stadium."
Urawa is one of the best supported clubs in Japan and had average attendance of more than 37,000 last season.
It was the first time in league history a match was played at an empty stadium. Urawa captain Yuki Abe read from a statement before the game, expressing the team's regret over the incident.
The team announced it will prohibit supporters from displaying signs and banners of any kind at all home games.