How J-League Clubs Are Being Affected By The Japanese Disasters

Goal.com's Cesare Polenghi looks at the impact the recent earthquake and tsunami has had on Japanese football.
The earthquake and subsequent tsunami which hit northern Japan on March 11 might have killed as many as 20,000 and left an estimated half a million people without a permanent place to live.

Over a week has passed; yet in the areas hit by the natural disaster many still need to deal with lack of water, food and electricity, while keeping a nervous eye on the news from Fukushima, where the leak of radioactive gases from the damaged nuclear plant has already polluted the nearby environment.

Observing this apocalyptic scenario, the world admired the composure and the strong will showed by ordinary Japanese coping with the dire situation.

With the enthusiasm generated by the recent success of the national team, football in Japan has now permeated every layer of society and today faces problems common to most Japanese: on one side there are a series of problems to deal with, on the other the firm will to solve them.

Clubs located in regions hit by the disaster, in particular top division outfits Vegalta Sendai and Kashima Antlers, are those suffering the most. While no players were harmed, stadia and training facilities were severely damaged.

In light of the dramatic events, both teams were forced to temporarily disband and foreign players were released to return home and reassure their families of their well-being.
KASHIMA ANTLERS
- Stairways at Kashima Soccer Stadium
  crumbled
- Objects fell from ceiling and broke
  seats
- Player facilities and museum
  damaged
- Three months needed to repair
  damage
VEGALTA SENDAI
- Training grounds possibly damaged
  beyond repair
- Yurtec Stadium outer wall has
  collapsed, won't be ready in April
- Half the players are training
  individually, outside of Sendai
OMIYA ARDIJA
- Cracks in pillars at entrance to the
  NACK 5 Stadium
- Cracks in walls of corridors and
  other minor damage
- Will be able to use Saitama 2002
  Stadium
MONTEDIO YAMAGATA
- No real damage to the stadium but
  players having trouble reaching
  training ground because there is
  very little gasoline in town
- Club suspended activities till April 27


The league committee's only option was to postpone a total of four rounds of J-League championship and J-League Cup games. Similarly the JFA was forced to cancel two friendly games scheduled for March 25 and 29 against Montenegro and New Zealand respectively.

The J-League will meet again today and now faces the complicated task of reorganising the yearly schedule, especially in view of the fact that recovery for the clubs directly hit by the cataclysm won't be instantaneous.

Kashima Antlers' stadium, for example, will not be fit for use for some three months and the situation seems even more compromised in Sendai. Montedio Yamagata, Omiya Ardija and a few second division clubs as well are facing infrastructe problems.

These clubs have received several offers for temporary relocation but while it is heartwarming to see such generosity, the reality is still rather more complicated.

Besides the technical problems involved with transplanting a club, it must be kept in mind how the J-League was created upon a principle of "grassroots support," and for a club to move away from its hometown would mean, even if only temporarily, abandoning local supporters.

If as expected, more games are postponed, calendar-wise the only option seems to be to play the rescheduled games in July. This will probably mean that J-League players will not be available to be picked for the national team to travel to the Copa America in Argentina.

In spite of the difficulties, however, Japanese football has been as resilient as the rest of Japan in dealing with the tragic situation.

In a matter of days, J-League players and supporters were already collecting significant sums to help the victims. Moreover, a series of charity games have been promptly organised, including one that will see the Japanese national team facing a selection of J-Leaguers in Osaka on March 29.

It is still early to assess how the recent events that have hit Japan will affect domestic football.

However, it is clear that, just like the country at large, those who love and live through football are not accepting the situation passively.

On the contrary, they are using their passion for the game as a catalyst for hope and for a better future.

The words of Vissel Kobe's captain Kunie Kitamoto sum up the spirit well.

"When the big earthquake of 1995 hit Kobe, I was still a kid," Kitamoto said. "However, how people reacted to that event strongly motivated me.

"Today, as a professional soccer player I'll do my little part to help Japan to get back on its feet."


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