Soccer fans all over Japan have been enjoying the recent start of the J. League’s 2015 season. In the fourth week, however, an incident of dirty play has highlighted the need to stamp out dirty play in the game, but has also incited some quite severe racial tension in the soccer world.

The incident occurred at a game between two J1 (top-tier) teams, Sagan Tosu and the Kashima Antlers. At the match last Friday, a Sagan defender was being a little grabby while trying to win the ball from his Kashima opponent, Mu Kanazaki. When the Kashima player fell to the ground, the Sagan player stepped on his face, leaving him writhing in pain.

▼ It’s not an easy thing to watch.

It’s possible that this was an accident, with the Sagan Tosu player simply attempting to regain his footing during the battle for the ball. There again, he may have let the adrenaline get to him and done it on purpose. Either way, he received a yellow card, a free kick was given, and play continued. Unpleasant as they are, these things happen in soccer sometimes, and no more attention was paid to the incident.

Well, we shouldn’t say that no one paid any more attention to it, as a clip of the clash between the two men made it onto YouTube and Vine after the game and subsequently took off in a big way.

We’d like to tell you that the uproar the event created online was all in protest of rough play in general, like when Japanese women’s soccer team and German Wolfsburg FC member Yuki Ogimi commented via Twitter:

“What a shocking video… I’m worried about [his] injury… If you think about the act [of stepping on your opponent’s face] on a social level, as a person and as a soccer player, I think it’s totally unacceptable.”


But not every Japanese netizen took the same stand as Ogimi. The main commotion surrounding this clip was not over the act itself, but that the act was done by a Korean player. You see, the Sagan Tosu player, Min-Hyeok Kim, is a South Korean national playing professionally in Japan. This in itself is not all that uncommon: until summer of last year, Sagan Tosu’s coach was also from South Korea, and there are plenty of other foreign players and coaches throughout the J League.

Nevertheless, many of the comments carried distinctly discriminatory undertones, if not blatant racism against Koreans; people were even demanding Kim’s (and other Korean players’) expulsion from the J. League and deportation. As sad as it is that such prejudice still exists and as much as we wish it didn’t, it brings to mind the incident in March of last year when Urawa Reds’ fans posted a sign in the stands reading, “Japanese Only.”  The sign was initially judged as having “no discriminatory intent,” although that decision was later reversed after uproar from the community.

While many comments regarding the recent incident were pretty racist, there were some comments that fought in Kim’s defense, for example:

“I play soccer and I don’t really think he did it on purpose. I’ve done the same kind of thing. The people saying all of this criticism clearly don’t understand soccer. Who are we to criticize the pros?”

“Japanese players are doing the same kind of stuff. It’s only when a Korean does it that everyone gets upset about it.”

The Japanese-South Korean political (and as of late, social) relationship isn’t what we’d call healthy, but the wonderful thing about sports is that race, religion and politics have no place on the field and we should all strive to keep it that way. The more important issue at hand, as Nadeshico Japan player Ogimi said, we need to try to decrease rough play in general throughout the soccer world. Even if some players do tend to play a little dirtier than others, their race shouldn’t come into it. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed in the soccer community as a whole for the safety of all players world-wide and across all levels.

Sources: JinYahoo! Japan News, YouTube (Channel サッカー)
Video/Images: Vine (10969321) via Twitter (@kenk209)