Fine was the highest in the football league’s history.

With regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan is in a bit of an awkward situation. Reported infections are currently at an all-time high, but for the most part it seems as if Japanese society is moving towards a post-pandemic lifestyle. This can result in a lot of conflicting opinions about proper social behavior, as we can see in the current case of the Urawa Reds.

The Urawa Reds (formally Urawa Red Diamonds) are a first-division J-League football club based in Saitama Prefecture, having both a long history and very devoted fan-base. So devoted, in fact, that their exuberant support has landed the club in hot water in the form of a 20-million-yen (US$146,000) fine from the J-League for violating the league’s COVID-19 safety rules against loud cheering during games.

In issuing the fine, the J-League cited two separate incidents. On 21 May at a home match against the Kashima Antlers, a group of about 60 fans gathered by the north vehicle gate of Saitama Stadium 2002 and cheered for about 10 minutes while the team bus arrived. According to the J-League some members of the group were either unmasked or wearing a mask around their chin.

▼ Footage of the fans cheering on the team bus

Then, on 2 July at Panasonic Stadium Suita, a group of some 100 Urawa Reds supporters were said to have been cheering loudly as a group for about five minutes in the final minutes of an away match against Gamba Osaka. Again, some among the group were not wearing masks, or wearing them incorrectly.

▼ Footage of the cheering during the Reds-Gamba match

Though it’s impossible for a football club to completely control the actions of its fans, but the league’s governing body took issue with the fact that the Urawa Reds organization appeared to do nothing to try to prevent the behavior, despite warnings from the league that such behavior was likely to happen and should be addressed ahead of time. They added that the continuing behavior of Reds fans were hindering efforts to normalize professional soccer and damaging the reputation of the J-League.

The Uwara Reds were fined lesser amounts in 2020 and 2021 for similar violations of the J-League’s COVID-19 safety guidelines by fans. Even prior to the pandemic, die-hard fans who formed a group known as the Urawa Boys were accused of various anti-social behavior, such as holding placards with racist slogans and reckless use of fireworks.

However, this current 20-million-yen fine is tied for the highest ever handed down to a team, indicating that the J-League wants to send a firm message that it will not tolerate breaches in its COVID-19 guidelines. Despite this, many Japanese comments online seem to feel the J-League should do more to punish the team.

“Not just a 20 million-yen fine. Demote them to the third-division.”
“They say they’re fans, but they seem to be screwing their own team over.”
“It’s a shame that the team has to pay for the unruliness of the supporters.”
“This stuff is just going to keep the normal people away from soccer games.”
“I really hate taking the train home from work on days when there’s a Reds match.”
“People who shout should get banned from the stadium for a year.”
“J3 demotion is still an option…”
“The Reds should share the punishment by raising ticket prices. Then everyone pays.”

In response to the fine, the Reds issued a statement on their website asking for their fans’ cooperation in the matter and pledging to remind supporters about the leagues COVID-19 guidelines. They plan to do this both before games, via social media and communicating directly with groups like the Urawa Boys, as well as during games by displaying warnings on the stadium’s Aurora Vision scoreboard and promptly ejecting spectators who violate the rules.

Whether this will have an effect remains to be seen, but perhaps the one comment summed it up best by pointing out that the fans are directly hurting the team they claim to support with their actions. If they are true fans, it seems like that fact alone ought to be enough to make them change their ways.

Source: J-League, Urawa Reds (1, 2), Football Zone, Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
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