Football: Japan flag seized at match in China

TOKYO, October  4, 2010 (AFP) - A spectator at a football match in China featuring a Japan youth team Monday seized the Japanese flag, prompting an apology from Chinese organisers.

The incident was seen as a protest, coming amid a simmering diplomatic row after the September 8 arrest of a Chinese trawler captain following collisions with two Japanese coastguard vessels in disputed waters.

It came ahead of a Japan v United Arab Emirates match in Zibo, Shandong province, part of the Asian under-19 football championships.

Japan's Kyodo news agency reported from Zibo that the spectator, wearing a white sweatshirt with the words "Don't forget the national disgrace" written in Chinese in red, ran onto the pitch when Japan's national anthem started.

He snatched the flag and ran with it on the pitch while some Chinese spectators cheered and applauded, Kyodo said. He was restrained later.

In the stands, some signs were seen reading "Diaoyu belongs to China," referring to the Chinese name for the disputed islands, Kyodo added.

Japan won the game 2-1.

In a statement the Japan Football Association (JFA) described the incident as an "ungentlemanly act".

It said it had received an letter of apology and a report on the incident from China Football Association general secretary Wei Di, and had asked for measures to be taken to prevent a recurrence.

"We request that this kind of thing does not happen again," JFA president Junji Ogura said.

Ogura had earlier expressed worries that the diplomatic stand-off could spoil the under-19 event, as well as the football tournament of the Asian Games to be held in Guangzhou in November.

The Japanese national football team have bitter memories of facing hostile and abusive Chinese supporters at tournaments in China.

At the 2004 Asian Cup in China local spectators booed the Japanese team even when their national anthem was played, reflecting deep-rooted antipathy dating back to Japan's World War II aggression.

The 2004 event ended with a near-riot after the final in Beijing, where Japan beat China 3-1, when a Japanese diplomat's car was attacked.

At the 2008 East Asian championships in Chongqing, local spectators booed the Japanese national anthem, continuously jeered Japanese players and burned Japanese national flags.