South Korea's football community on Friday staged a rally near the presidential office in Seoul to protest the abrupt recruitment halt at a police football club.
Nearly 300 football officials, coaches, former and active players, and players' families took to the streets near Cheong Wa Dae to denounce the recruitment stoppage at Asan Mugunghwa FC, a club in the second-tier K League 2 under the National Police Agency's watch.
Mugunghwa FC, actually managed by the Korean National Police Academy, were founded in 1996 with the purpose of helping footballers stay in the game while fulfilling their mandatory military duties. The players who join Mugunghwa are part of the auxiliary police, completing their national duty as police officers after finishing basic military training.
The South Korean government last year announced it will abolish the auxiliary police by 2023 and recruitment will end by 2022. But the National Police Agency ordered the police academy to stop recruiting athletes immediately and disband its sports teams by next year.
In a letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which was read by Mugunghwa head coach Park Dong-hyuk, football lovers claimed that the disbandment of the police club will weaken the competitiveness of the country's football.
"Mugunghwa have been a big contributor in the South Korean football community, helping national team-caliber players maintain their talents while serving their sacred military duties," Park said. "The disbandment of Mugunghwa means no future to remaining players. It also has a bad influence on those who were waiting to be recruited by Mugunghwa and the club's youth players."
The South Korean football community has been asking the police to have a probation period for the next two years and gradually reduce the number of the players.
"We feel frustrated by the police's decision," said Hong Myung-bo, general secretary of the Korea Football Association. "We are just asking the police to give us some time."
Mugunghwa recently won the second division K League 2 title, but they're not likely to earn a direct promotion to the K League 1 next year unless they come up with a recruitment plan. Mugunghwa currently have 26 players on the roster, but 12 of them will be discharged beginning in February. In order to compete in the K League, a team must have at least 20 players.
The K League, operator of the South Korean pro football league, is set to determine the fate of the police club later this month after the K League 2 season is over. (Yonhap)