K-League comes down hard on match-fixers

South Korea’s K-League has handed lifetime bans to 10 players found guilty of match-fixing at a hearing on Friday.In the toughest penalty ever handed down in South Korea’s top-flight, prosecutors revealed that the players had been paid by several gambling brokers in exchange for helping their teams lose two matches in April.

Eight of the players came from the Daejeon Citizen team, with one player found to have received US$110,000 dollars and shared it with seven teammates.

Another player caught up in the scandal was found dead in a hotel room in May, with a national news agency reporting a suicide note discovered at the scene referred to the match-fixing ring.

An 11th player, Pohang Steelers midfielder Kim Jung-Kyum, was handed a five-year ban for betting on a game after a tip-off from another player.

The players could face jail time if found guilty in court.

The K-League resumed on Saturday after halting action in May, when the allegations emerged.

State-run sports bookmaker Sports Toto has stopped taking bets on games at the request of K-League club owners, while the government has threatened to terminate funding.

“This is an unacceptable incident. There were some players acting against pure sportsmanship during the process (match-fixing),” Korea Football Association director Kim Jon-Kook said.

“Also, some innocent players were involved in those illegal matching-fixing due to pressures around them.”

The league has urged players to own up to their involvement in return for reduced punishments.

The players’ clubs have not escaped their own punishment, with Daejeon to lose 30 percent of its share from the sales of Sports Toto. The loss will amount to around US$250,000, while Gwangju FC and Sangju Sangmu Phoenix both lose 10 percent of their shares.

The KFA is now looking to adopt the football governing body FIFA’s early warning system, which alerts authorities to unusual online betting activity and is aimed at stopping match-fixing.