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K-League takes tough stance on match fixing

When the match-fixing scandal engulfed the K-League in May, Incheon United head coach, the man who took South Korea to the second round of the 2010 World Cup, Huh Jung-moo said: “As a football devotee, we’re facing a problem that should never have happened. Once everything is exposed, we should scrutinize it to make sure everything will be cleared up, so that we can turn this to our advantage.”

Huh may just be right though continuing revelations are trying the patience of fans. Reports of gambling and cheating have certainly damaged the reputation of the K-League both at home and overseas but the way the soccer authorities have responded to the crisis has been meet with admiration and praise.

You don’t often see the New York Times praising the K-League but that is what happened last week. The influential newspaper held up the league as the example to follow when it comes to dealing with match fixing.

“Zero tolerance” is the in phrase among sports officials these days,” wrote well-respected international soccer expert Rob Hughes. “Sepp Blatter of FIFA and Jacques Rogge of the International Olympic Committee speak about it but South Korea practices it. We are looking at the start of a zero-tolerance policy that will not be watered down by courts, as it very likely might in Europe or the United States.”

The K-League’s response could even become a model for others to follow. Immediately after the news broke, team captains read aloud a pledge prior to kick-offs around the country in an early attempt to reassure fans. The following week, over one thousand players, coaches and officials were summoned to an emergency workshop in PyeongChang to be educated as to the dangers of match fixing and once again publicly promises they would not enter into such practices.

Amnesties have been offered to players who come forward in June with information about match fixing, an anti-corruption committee has been established and punishments have been severe. The zero tolerance involves banning players charged by police, currently at 10, for life. If anyone is found not guilty by the courts, their case will be reviewed by the soccer authorities. The clubs with cheating players on their books have been fined between $100,000 to $250,000, significant amounts for the poorer teams in the league.
The message is clear: the K-League will not tolerate match fixing and it is a message that has been well-received by the international media.

Such praise has gone down well at the K-League offices in downtown Seoul. Floors four and five of the building not far from Gyeongbuk Palace have not been the happiest or most relaxed of places of late but there is a sense that now the shock is over (though with the investigation expanding the scandal still has some way to go), the measures put in place will make the competition better in the long-term.

Part of the problem was complacency. This kind of thing was long felt to be the preserve of Southeast Asian nations like Malaysia, a country that is currently dealing with another outbreak, or neighbor China, a country that seems to have cleared up its act. Now that has been replaced by a determination to root out the players that betray the game and make sure that it doesn’t happen again, or at least, do everything in their power to do so.

The match-fixing scandal could just be the event that unites and energizes Korean soccer and brings the clubs and players closer to the fans.

“Even at the cost of suffering from ‘cutting our own flesh,’ we must remove anything that degrades the spirit of football,” K-League CEO Chung Mong-gyu said.

It has been, and continues to be, painful. The challenge now is for the league to continue fighting the problem with the same levels of determination and energy for years and not weeks. If that can be done, then people may look back at 2011 and see it as a pivotal year in Korean soccer.

By John Duerden, Contributing writer  (
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Korea Herald daum