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K-League chief vows major changes

South Korea’s top division football league will undergo major shifts, including employing a promotion and relegation system to prevent match-fixing and illegal betting.

The K-League governing body announced on Monday it will introduce a promotion-relegation system in the league, and also a new draft system from the 2013 season.

“We believe the new systems will help preserve the integrity of our league, and it will bring about competitiveness in the league,” said K-League president Chung Mong-gyu in a news conference in Seoul on Monday.

Chung made a public apology Monday, saying that he was deeply “sorry” and “regretful” for not preventing the recent match-fixing scam. His comment came in the wake of widening match-fixing scandals involving at least 60 current players. 
K-League president Chung Mong-gyu (Yonhap News)
K-League president Chung Mong-gyu (Yonhap News)

According to Chung, the current 16-team league will be downsized to 12 teams with the bottom four teams being relegated to the second division league by the end of 2012 season.

The clubs whose players are involved in match-rigging attempts will be penalized, and further they could be relegated to the second division, Chung said.

“The clubs will also be banned from participating in any international competition such as AFC Champions League,” he added.

On Monday, the K-league governing body also announced that it will introduce a special pension scheme for players, and increase their minimum wage from 12 million ($11,300) won to 24 million won ($22,600) a year starting next year.

Also, in order to prevent further match fixing, the K-League will look into introducing a polygraph test, the governing body said.

Last week, 46 footballers and 11 other brokers and gamblers were indicated by prosecutors on charges of rigging matches in the K-League.

The accused players, including former national team striker Choi Sung-kuk, allegedly received up to 55 million won ($52,000) from brokers for rigging a total of 15 matches between June and October of last year, according to the Changwon District Prosecutor’s office.

The Changwon prosecutors have been investigating the country’s biggest match-fixing scandal since May. After the match-rigging scam first broke, a total of 63 footballers, brokers and gamblers, including nine other footballers indicted by military prosecutors, have been so far found to be involved in the case. And now the number is expected to increase in the coming weeks as the prosecution expands its probe.

Facing the worst crisis in the league history, the K-League chief Chung earlier vowed to take all measures necessary to root out match-fixing attempts.

Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has already taken the football league cup games from Sports Toto, the state-run sports lottery, to prevent match-fixing.

The ministry also announced that it would enhance the punishment for gambling brokers and illegal betting operators. According to a new measure from the ministry, those convicted of attempted match-fixing or giving bribes to fix matches may be sentenced to up to seven years in prison or pay a maximum fine of 70 million won ($65,000). And those receiving bribes may be sentenced to up to five years in prison or fined up to 50 million won.

However, asked about the possible punishment for players involved in the on-going match-rigging probe, Chung said: “We are going to take serious action, but this will take some time as there are so many players involved in the case.”

Speaking at the news conference, Ulsan FC manager Kim Ho-gon said that he believes the unprecedented match-fixing probe can be a chance to upgrade its league system.

“The players and teams, we all now have a great determination to stop the match-fixing attempts. Once everything is exposed, and fixed, our league will become stronger,” Kim said.

By Oh Kyu-wook (596story@heraldcorp.com)
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