J. League scraps March games; Japan friendlies in doubt

Kyodo News

The J. League on Monday announced the cancellation of all matches in March in the first and second divisions as well as the Nabisco Cup, while the Japan Football Association backtracked on its decision to host a pair of friendlies later this month, saying it was now “keeping all options open.”

A total of 41 games were postponed to a date yet to be determined after Friday’s earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan, leading to a nuclear power plant crisis in Fukushima Prefecture and a serious shortage of electricity in the eastern part of the country.

J. League chairman Kazumi Ohigashi said it would likely have to be the month of July, which had been carved out for Japan’s guest participation in the Copa America in Argentina.

JFA general secretary Kozo Tashima, however, made it clear Alberto Zaccheroni’s side will still participate in the South American continental championship despite the schedule conflict.

Yet despite saying a day earlier that the internationals against Montenegro and New Zealand on March 25 and 29, respectively, would go on, Tashima said the JFA will reevaluate and make a final decision by Wednesday.

Zaccheroni, who flew home to Italy on Saturday evening, is scheduled to name his team for the two games in Shizuoka and Tokyo on Thursday.

If the matches do go on, they will be held for charity to aid the quake and tsunami victims. More than 5,000 have died or remain unaccounted for because of the strongest recorded quake in Japan with a magnitude of 9.0.

“When I spoke yesterday, both (Junji) Ogura and I thought things would head back to normal by Monday,” Tashima said of the JFA president. “But the information we now have and what we had yesterday is different, and it could change again tomorrow for all we know.”

Tashima said the planned power outage announced by the government on Sunday night was one reason the JFA is reconsidering.

All national team matches held in Japan are held in the evening. Given the existing electricity shortage, the JFA might be forced to change to an afternoon kickoff when there is a smaller television audience.

With the lack of power, trains have also stopped running, which would make it impossible for fans to actually reach the stadiums.

“We have to look at all the factors, like traveling to and from Shizuoka,” Tashima said. “We are keeping all options open. We will operate on accurate, correct information. What we won’t do is make a decision based on whim.”

The J. League had already canceled last weekend’s J1 and J2 matches.

Ohigashi said if the situation does not improve, more games could be wiped out in April and beyond, which could lead to a major overhaul of the 2011 Japanese soccer calendar.

“Things are very serious right now,” Ohigashi said at a hastily arranged press conference at J. League headquarters. “With the aftershocks continuing and the inability to guarantee complete safety at all the stadiums, the J. League has made the decision to cancel all J1, J2 and Nabisco Cup matches for the rest of March.”