While facing a massive match-fixing scandal, the country’s top division football league is exploring the possibility of expelling Sangju Sangmu, the military football club.
“We are now discussing a plan to stop sending players to Sangmu, and eventually to remove the club from the K-League,” said a high-level K-League official on condition of anonymity.
Sangju Sangmu players gather in midfield during a match on July 9. (Yonhap News)
The Sangju Sangmu, which consists of professional players serving their two-year mandatory military duty, are now in hot water due to a match-fixing scam involving more than 60 players, a coach and gamblers.
So far 46 active and former K-League players have been indicted by prosecutors on charges of rigging matches since the probe began in May. Of the 46 arrests, Sangmu had the most players with nine current and 15 former members on the list.
In a recent development, military prosecutors arrested manager Lee Soo-chul for allegedly extorting money from the family of at least one Sangmu player implicated in the scandal.
As Sangmu appears to be at the core of the corruption, the K-League governing body is now seeing increasing demands to expel the club.
K-League president Chung Mong-gyu, however, denied the possibility of removal of Sangmu, noting that the club is “absolutely necessary” to maintain the league.
“We have no plan to shut out the club from K-League,” Chung said on Monday.
Meanwhile, observers insist that the military club’s involvement in the match-rigging scam proves that a fundamental change is needed in the league.
“The problem of Sangmu is that their players are more prone to bribery,” said Kim Dae-gil, a sport commentator and also a member of the Korea Football Association.
The players used make at least 10 million won ($9,300) a month while playing for other K-League clubs. But during their two-year stint in the military side, they can only receive about 100,000 won ($93) a month, he said.
“We need to introduce a new separate league to put Sangmu and other government-run football clubs together” Kim added.
In addition to the 46 footballers, 11 brokers and gamblers have so far been indicted by prosecutors on charges of rigging matches. The accused players, including former Sangju Sangmu striker Choi Sung-kuk, allegedly received up to 55 million won ($52,000) from brokers for rigging a total of 15 matches between last June and October.
Asked whether the K-League should cancel its remaining games, Kim said: “No, it will just make things worse. It can also affect the competitiveness of our national team.”
“I believe we can only solve this problem by improving our system, but it will take some time.”
By Oh Kyu-wook (email@example.com)