Football: Urawa play in empty stadium after racist sign

TOKYO Japan's best-supported club Urawa Red Diamonds will on Sunday play in an empty stadium as punishment for a racist "Japanese only" banner put up by hardline fans that deeply embarrassed the J-League.

Urawa's match against Shimizu S-Pulse will start at 3:00 pm (0600 GMT) behind closed doors after league officials hit the 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.

Urawa president Keizo Fuchita has said it was a warning to foreign visitors to stay away from the "sacred ground" at Saitama Stadium, a 2002 World Cup semi-final venue.

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 banned banners and flags and warned fans not to gather outside the stadium for Sunday's match.

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.