TOKYO - Japan's professional football league has said an internal probe turned up no evidence to support suspicions that a recent match was fixed, as it wrestles with an embarrassing racism scandal.
The J-League launched an investigation earlier this month after a FIFA unit said it had noticed unusual online betting patterns in a March 8 game between Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Kawasaki Frontale.
Betting on football is legal in Japan. But FIFA's Early Warning System, launched in 2007 to fight corruption in world football, spotted an abnormal rise in bets that Kawasaki would lead the match at half-time, with its rival prevailing by the final whistle.
That turned out to be a profitable bet: Sanfrecce overcame a 1-0 half-time deficit to beat Kawasaki 2-1.
After questioning players, coaches, officials, referees and other people involved in the match, the league said in a statement on its website Tuesday that there was "no trace at all" of match-fixing.
"If wrongdoing is proven, any player involved in it will be expelled (from the league) forever and any club involved in it will not survive," J-League chairman Mitsuru Murai told reporters Tuesday.
"Our technical and referee committees analysed the game by film and found nothing unusual. We even drew a second opinion from overseas." The claims came at a bad time for the 21-year-old league as it moves to repair its image following the appearance of a racist banner at a home match for the popular Urawa Red Diamonds.
Several Urawa supporters hung a banner that read "Japanese only" in English, at an entrance to stands behind the goal at their home stadium near Tokyo during a match earlier this month.
As a penalty, the J-League ordered Urawa's next home match on Sunday to be played in an empty stadium with no fans in attendance.