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Soccer: J-League clubs move to repay local communities hit by coronavirus

Players from J-League soccer clubs participate in a joint online press conference on May 15, 2020. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Building close ties with local communities has been an aspiration for J-League soccer clubs, and the coronavirus pandemic has presented them with the opportunity to return the favor for the everyday support they receive.

    In Kanagawa Prefecture near Tokyo, top-tier J1 club Shonan Bellmare will host a charity video game competition this weekend featuring 15 stars from a variety of different sports playing the soccer game FIFA 20. The proceeds will be used to support local medical staff at the forefront of the battle against the virus.

    "We want to help out, even a little bit, as a club treading the path together with our local community," Shonan President Naohito Mizutani said last week at a press conference promoting the One Kanagawa Sports All-Star Cup 2020, set to feature stars from the world of soccer, baseball, basketball, futsal, rugby, American football and volleyball.

    "I wonder how fantastic it would be if each team can unite together and face up to what has become a national crisis."

    Participants include Keita Endo, who chipped in with seven goals to help Yokohama F Marinos lift the J1 title last season, Koki Mizuno of J3 SC Sagamihara who had a spell at Scottish side Celtic alongside former favorite Shunsuke Nakamura, and up-and-coming baseball player Taiga Kamichatani.

    "I'll do my best to make it a fun time for the spectators," said the pitcher of Central League club DeNA BayStars, who went 7-6 in his first professional season last year.

    Mizutani plans to make the tournament into a series -- setting up the necessary funding schemes on each occasion -- and is happy to have made the bond with other sports clubs in Kanagawa.

    "The move stems from a tough situation but it's huge we've managed to build connections across sport," he said. "Hopefully it serves to help sports become closer to everyone."

    In Shizuoka Prefecture, southwest of Kanagawa, players from J1 Shimizu S-Pulse, J2 Jubilo Iwata and two J3 clubs jointly launched the "One Shizuoka Project" to crowd-fund the expansion of polymerase chain reaction tests for the coronavirus.

    Jubilo's Hiroki Yamada is well aware of how sports clubs can take root in local communities in Europe from the time he spent playing for Karlsruher in the German second tier.

    "I realized that a club needs to be one that people can feel happy to have around them when the community is in trouble," he said.

    The money raised under the project, which will also provide online lectures for young soccer players, will be sent to the prefectural government's task force against the pandemic.

    J1 Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo will also begin a crowd-funding scheme in June to financially support its partner companies and the local economy.

    "We've tended to think our jobs are what we do on the pitch. Now our feeling of helping each other out has taken shape," Consadole captain Hiroki Miyazawa said.

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