Japan's Ito leaves Asian Cup after sexual assault allegation

By AFP   February 1, 2024 | 08:16 am PT
Japan's Ito leaves Asian Cup after sexual assault allegation
Junya Ito (number 14) in the starting lineup in Japan's 4-2 victory over Vietnam at the Asian Cup group stage game in Qatar on Jan. 14, 2024. Photo by AFC
Japan's football association said Thursday that winger Junya Ito has left the Asian Cup in Qatar following media reports that two women had accused him of sexual assault, a claim he denies.

The JFA said Ito was leaving "out of consideration for his mental and physical wellbeing", adding that there were differing accounts of the alleged incident in Osaka last year.

"Junya Ito is leaving the Japan team competing at the Asian Cup in Qatar," it said, adding it was treating the case with "caution".

Japanese police have launched an investigation into the 30-year-old, who plays for French club Reims.

Ito has played 54 games for Japan, scoring 13 goals.

"We received a criminal complaint against him and have started an investigation," a police spokesman in Osaka working in the department covering crimes including sexual assaults told AFP.

He declined to give further details including what the complaint was about.

The alleged incident was said to have taken place at a hotel in Osaka in June last year after a friendly between Japan and Peru, media reports said.

Ito has denied any wrongdoing, Kyodo news agency reported, quoting his lawyer as saying the claims were "totally unfounded."

While Ito did spend time with the two women, their accounts are inconsistent and there is no physical evidence supporting their allegations, Kyodo quoted the unnamed lawyer as saying.

Ito was named in Japan's match-day squad for their Asian Cup last-16 game on Wednesday against Bahrain but was an unused substitute in a 3-1 win.

The JFA said Ito would not be replaced in the squad.

His club Reims said in a statement it took the allegation seriously but Ito "remains a full member" of the squad.

"The human qualities and behaviour of the Japanese attacker have never had to be questioned by the club," it said.

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