Fans of the Japanese first division club Kawasaki Frontale unfurled the Rising Sun Flag during an AFC Champions League match in Suwon, Korea, on Tuesday (25 April).
An AFC statement read: “Kawasaki Frontale (Japan) have been charged under Article 58 for an offence of discrimination at the game against Suwon Samsung Bluewings (Korea Republic).”
The Rising Sun flag (or Kyokujitsu-ki) was used by the Imperial Japanese Navy and Imperial Japanese Army until 1945. It is viewed as a symbol of Japanese militarism and colonial outlook before and during World War II and considered discriminatory. China and both South and North Korea regard it as a symbol of aggression.
The flag, still flown by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (Japanese Navy), is commonly witnessed at Japanese domestic and international matches.
Officials of Kawasaki Frontale confiscated the 16-ray rising sun flag from two men while escorting supporters out of the stadium after the match.
Mitsuru Murai, Chairman of the top division of the Japan Professional Football League (J-League) said: “There is an understanding (in Japan) that the Rising Sun flag doesn’t have a political or discriminatory message; that’s the government’s stance and that’s what the J-League recognizes.
“But what we have to keep in mind is that football ‘support’ is for encouraging the individual players and the teams. It’s very important that we (maintain) a stadium experience that is safe and enjoyable.”
The Fare network has expressed concern over use of the Rising Sun in the region despite challenge from some quarters. The symbol is listed in a forthcoming global guide to discriminatory symbols in football.
The AFC sanction comes at a time when the J-League is under the spotlight over another incident of discrimination.
J-League side Gamba Osaka had to apologise after a neo-Nazi flag was displayed during a domestic league match on Sunday (16 April). The supporters group has since been disbanded and the club banned the members of the group indefinitely. The club also announced a new plan to be jointly developed with fans to address discrimination.