An injury-time goal that propelled Japan to victory over South Korea in last weekend’s East Asian Cup has generated far less attention than the controversial banners that were on display during the match. South Korea’s less violent answer to European soccer hooligans – the hardcore fan group known as the Red Devils – unfurled a long horizontal banner written in Hangul that read “There is no future for a race oblivious to history”.
A blatant reference to Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula, the controversial banner followed two others that had been put on display before kick-off. One showed Korean independence activist An Jung-geun, who was responsible for the assassination of Japan’s first prime minister in 1909. The other bore the portrait of Yi Sun-Shin, a 16th century Korean admiral who became a national hero for his successful naval campaigns against the Japanese.
The third banner was removed at half-time, at the request of Korean Football Association officials, with many of the Red Devils leaving the stadium in protest. Those who remained in the Red Devils’ section stayed silent for the second half of the game.
Japan has lodged a complaint with the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF), requesting an investigation into the controversial banners. FIFA, the sport’s worldwide governing body, bans political displays during soccer matches.
“At a regular briefing in Tokyo on Monday, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said it was ‘extremely regrettable’ that the banner was displayed and added that the government would take ‘appropriate steps’ after hearing about the incident from the Japan Football Association,” stated The Wall Street Journal.
“I was hoping something like this would not occur this time, so it’s unfortunate,” Kuniya Daini, the leader of the Japan Football Association, told The Japan Times. “We ask the East Asian federation to thoroughly investigate the matter and act in the appropriate fashion.”
Japanese fans allegedly waved a rising sun flag at one point during the match, but put it away at the behest of event organizers. The rising sun flag is viewed by many as a reminder of Japan’s colonial past and wartime aggression.