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Soccer: Japanese players must stand up to racism, says keeper Kawashima


Soccer: Japanese players must stand up to racism, says keeper KawashimaJapan international goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima has urged his compatriots to develop a thicker skin and stand tall in the face of racism in European leagues.

Kawashima's advice comes after striker Yuki Nakamura recently revealed he had quit Rimavska Sobota because of racist abuse he suffered at the Slovakian club.

Nakamura, who has also played in Romania and the Czech Republic, wrote on his blog that supporters would "furiously" hurl abuse at him before and after games and claimed some of his teammates would turn a blind eye and offer no help.

He said threats were made to the club by supporters and, unable to take any more, he decided to return to Japan after Rimavska refused to take responsibility for their fans' actions.

Kawashima, who plays for Belgian powerhouse Standard Liege, said he could sympathize with Nakamura, having himself taken his fair share of racist taunts while playing for both club and country in Europe.

Speaking exclusively to Kyodo News after Wednesday's 3-0 World Cup qualifying warm-up win over Latvia, the affable, multilingual shotstopper said: "It is a pity that something happened like that, but, and this is just my opinion, Japanese players, not just players, Japanese people, have to be really tough in a foreign country. It is not easy."

"Living in Japan is really comfortable and really easy but you know when you go abroad the situation isn't always the same."

"Sometimes people are against us just because we are Asian. Some stupid people think that way and just joke in that way and we just need to be tough. But I was happy that I read an article that said he (Nakamura) was going to try again to go to Europe."

In 2011, when Kawashima was playing for Belgian team Lierse, he was reduced to tears after being taunted with chants of "Fukushima, Fukushima" by opposing fans in reference to the nuclear disaster following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Kawashima, who supports relief efforts to the disaster victims, protested to the referee, who had to stop the game in the second half to restore order.

The 29-year-old in October last year also slammed a French broadcaster that had showed a composite picture of him with four arms and cited the "effect" of the Fukushima nuclear crisis when praising his performance in a 1-0 win away to France.

He is not the first Japanese player to reveal that he has encountered such difficulties while playing in Europe.

A former Japan international who asked not to be named told Kyodo News in an interview before the 2010 World Cup that the toughest part of playing abroad was dealing with racism.

He said his coach at his Italian club forced him to wear a yellow bib in training in an apparent jibe at his nationality. The player also said he was shocked at the way black players were treated in Italy, saying he had seen some turned away from nightclubs.

Kawashima, speaking in near perfect English, told Kyodo News his experience has made him a stronger person.

"I now understand that people joke in a stupid way. Maybe the situation for him (Nakamura) was really tough and he was really alone. But we have got to be tough and if there is something wrong you have to stand against it."

Kawashima has recently been joined at Liege by Japanese strikers Kensuke Nagai from his former club Nagoya Grampus, and Yuji Ono from Yokohama F Marinos.

Nagai, who played a pivotal role in helping Japan reach the semifinals of the London Olympics, admitted Kawashima was a major factor in his decision to join Liege, saying his presence gave him "peace of mind."

"If someone is against Yuji or Nagai then I can be there (for them.) I just told him (Nagai) Standard Liege is a well known club in Europe and if he can play well and have a good season he can transfer to another bigger team," Kawashima said.

"I would not say Belgium is (an) easy (place to live) but I think it is easy to adapt to European football."

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