TOKYO: Four Japanese basketball players on Monday (Aug 20) apologised for bringing "disgrace" to their nation after they were kicked out of the Asian Games for paying prostitutes for sex.
The regional Olympics was hit by scandal after the players were spotted in a notorious red light district of the Indonesian capital Jakarta wearing their national jerseys last week.
The expulsion of Yuya Nagayoshi, Takuya Hashimoto, Takuma Sato and Keita Imamura will come as a major embarrassment for Japan, who will host the Tokyo Olympics in two years' time.
"I deeply apologise for our careless act that has brought disgrace on not only basketball fans but also all of the Japanese people," Sato told a news conference after the players returned to Tokyo on Monday.
Nagayoshi, wearing a black suit and tie, said he "can't imagine" playing basketball again.
Japan Basketball Association chief Yuko Mitsuya said it will wait for a report from a special committee of lawyers before formally punishing the four.
"I just feel a sense of shame," said Yasuhiro Yamashita, the head of the Japanese delegation to the Asian Games, the world's second-largest multi-sport event.
"We deeply apologise and intend to give the athletes thorough guidance from now on," he told reporters in Jakarta.
The basketball players had dinner after leaving the Games village last Thursday and are believed to have been solicited by a pimp to go to a hotel with women, Yamashita added.
They "paid for the services of prostitutes", Yamashita said, according to Japan's Kyodo news agency.
The story broke after the four, who play in Japan's B-League, were spotted in the red light district by a reporter for Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
At the last Asian Games in 2014, Japan were forced to send home swimmer Naoya Tomita after he was caught on video stealing a journalist's camera from the pool deck.
PROSTITUTES AND CONDOMS
Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, president of the Olympic Council of Asia, the Games' governing body, said the latest incident would serve as a warning to other athletes.
"I'm sorry for this story but in the sports field you are hearing this kind of story in each Games," the sheikh said.
"Athletes should always be a good symbol of society because there's a big generation" that follows them, he added.
"At the end of the day, representing your country isn't only about winning medals."
The players visited the prostitutes after Japan beat Qatar 82-71 to go top of Group C. Japan were bronze medallists at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
It is far from being the first case of sexual misconduct at major multi-sport events, which typically draw thousands of athletes, officials and fans from around the world.
At the 2014 Asian Games, an Iranian official was kicked out for the verbal sexual harassment of a female volunteer, and a Palestinian footballer was accused of groping a female worker at the athletes' village.
In April, at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, a Mauritian official was accused of sexually assaulting a female athlete during a photo shoot.
Major events around the world are believed to trigger a boom in prostitution and athletes' villages are often stocked with free condoms - about 225,000 at the Commonwealth Games.
Organisers say about 18,000 athletes and officials are visiting Jakarta and co-host city Palembang for the Asian Games, which features 40 sports.