Yeon Sik Yoo reports on a nightmare month for Korean football.
It seems Korean football really can’t catch a break this year. On 6 May, Incheon United’s Yoon Ki-won was found dead in his car, and the reason he chose to commit suicide still remains unknown. When Incheon United players burst into tears at the final whistle of their K-League match against Daejeon just two days after their teammate’s death, another piece of tragic news hit Korean football, as Jeju United striker Shin Young-rok suddenly collapsed, having suffered a heart attack in the 83rd minute of the match against Daegu. Luckily, Daegu defender Ahn Jae-hoon, who had first believed that Shin was simply time wasting, took appropriate emergency measures a la Andriy Shevchenko, and the striker was transported to the nearest hospital in an incredible seven minutes.
The doctors claim the fact that he is still breathing is a miracle and that 95% of patients with similar symptoms end up dying. Although the 24 year-old still remains in a coma, he has shown signs of improvement in his condition as he shed tears listening to his mother’s voice and everyone is waiting for him to wake up.
As well as these shocking events, another footballing nightmare became a reality, as some of the K-League players were found guilty of match-fixing. Daejeon Citizen’s Park Sang-wook helped the gambling brokers by bribing his teammates Shin Joon-bae, Kim Ba-woo and Yang Jung-min and Gwangju FC goalkeeper Sung Kyung-mo was arrested for his part in match-fixing; while Pohang Steelers’ Kim Jung-kyum was found guilty of placing a bet illegally. Former national team striker Kim Dong-hyun – currently currently serving his military duty at Sangju Sangmu – was reported as the link between the broker and the players.
While one of the general misconceptions about match-fixing is that it involves placing a bet that is against the odds, this Korean example sheds some light as to what these gambling brokers are actually looking for – certainty. One of the two ‘officially’ rigged matches in the scandal was a League Cup match between Daejeon Citizen and Pohang Steelers. With Daejeon resting many of their key players and Pohang being one of the most successful teams in the whole of Asia, a home loss was to be expected. The brokers bet on a Pohang win, 'knowing' that no upset by Daejeon would occur. Pohang won 3-0. Job done.
On a slightly more positive note, the players and the fans in Korea had hardly realised the severity of match-fixing prior to the scandal and many match-fixing cases in foreign countries were viewed as somebody else’s problem, but after the recent realisation, ‘something’ is being done about it. On 31st May, a government-induced K-League Workshop took place in Pyungchang – the largest ever gathering in Korean football’s history with over 1,000 officials, staff, players, and journalists attending. The players will now have at least a slightly better understanding of how serious a crime match-fixing is, especially after a fellow footballer Jung Jong-kwan, a formerly of Jeonbuk Motors, killed himself in a hotel room with a suicide note that read, “As a footballer, I am extremely ashamed of myself and sorry to have been involved in match-fixing.”
Much still needs to be done for the players to have a full understanding, but it is a start and the fans now know full well what it means to be betrayed by the players whom they cheer on at the stadium. It is not somebody else’s problem anymore, and both parties are starting to realise that it has to be corrected.
Although some say what has been found so far is only a tip of the iceberg – and that may be true – it should not be overlooked that the vast majority of players are working hard with dignity. In round twelve, Daejeon hosted Jeonbuk Motors at the Daejeon World Cup Stadium. Daejeon played their hearts out, trying hard to prove a point with eight of their players under investigation. The home side eventually lost 3-2, and Daejeon goalkeeper and captain Choi Eun-sung was in tears after the match. The 40-year-old shotstopper told the reporters, “On behalf of the team, I apologise to the fans who love football. Today, we players weren’t playing to win, but to live.” Being labelled the ‘captain of the match-fixing team’, his desperation was evident as he could not even finish his sentence.
Because of some players’ inability to resist temptation, players as a whole are being unfairly viewed as criminals and while it is only right to criticise those who were actually involved, it is also necessary to applaud the ethical ones who refused dirty cash. These players will work even harder to prove their pure desire to play football, and the dignity they feel in being a professional footballer. Only in this way can Korean football restore its credibility, and their sweat from hard work will be paid off with the support from fans who had been disappointed.
Yeon is a regular contributor to IBWM, and also maintains the excellent Seoul of Calcio Tumblr.