Jeonbuk Referee Bribe Scandal Verdict: just 9 point deduction?!

The KFA disciplinary committee dished out a 9-point deduction to Jeonbuk Hyundai -to be applied immediately and a 100 Million Won fine today for their bribery scandal. Some immediate questions arise from the verdict -including whether or not Jeonbuk will be allowed to continue on as favorites to win the Asian Champions League. The Tavern Owner will refrain from pouring on the shame until after the jump…

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Context

It all goes back to 2013, when Gyeongnam was caught and found guilty of matching fixing, with 2 referees the focus of the investigation –  It led all the way to the top, and Gyeongnam’s president Ahn Jong-bok was indicted eventually for embezzlement. Gyeongnam punishment: 10 points at the start of the next season and 70M Won fine and are currently languishing in the 2nd division K-League Challenge.

Fast forward to Spring 2016, and lo and behold, the referees involved in the original Gyeongnam scandal also were involved in cash payments by a Jeonbuk scout during 2013 and 2014 season to ‘give favorable decisions on the pitch.’  The investigation ended and Jeonbuk were found guilty, a punishment to be meted out at a later time.

I wrote about this last May in the Tavern when this was all exploding, only 2 months into the new K-League season {and another opportunity to shame the K-League and the KFA for not doing enough to reform itself despite a devastatingly broad 2011 scandal that rocked the K-League.}  The verdict finally came in yesterday and the twitterverse had a moment of outrage. Only 9 points?  Here’s Steve Han:

 

 

K-League United’s Matthew Binns wrote about the Jeonbuk decision and essentially argued this about the verdict and perhaps why it was considered lenient:

  • Jeonbuk did not match fix, but in the bribes asked for ‘favorable results’ on the pitch.

    Because of this technicality, the committee did not punish Jeonbuk to the full extent, with head of the committee Cho Nam-don statingIf we found that the matches were fixed, the punishment on Jeonbuk would have been more severe”

  • Jeonbuk club execs were not involved in the bribery scandal (as far the investigation could determine). Back to Binns: “Jeonbuk were found to have not made as many payments to the referees (five), in addition to no found involvement from the club executives, but due to their stature in the game were fined more (than Gyeongnam).” Only one person, a Mr Cha, representing Jeonbuk was found responsible – not coach Choi Kang-hee, nor any other high level official at the club.
  • They occurred several seasons ago – almost a case of grandfather clause coming into play.  There is a sense that the verdict implies a quasi-invocation of that.

A pretty damning factor for both the KFA and Jeonbuk in what can be perceived as a slap-on-the-wrist punishment for Jeonbuk is this from Binns piece:

Jeonbuk also proved to be uncooperative with the investigation, delaying the handing over of documents and maintaining the stance this act was of an individual nature. It may still very well have been so, but by employing Mr. Cha [Jeonbuk scout and briber], Jeonbuk also hold some responsibility by extension. If these had been handed over sooner, perhaps the punishment could have been awarded much earlier in the season when it might have meant something.

9 points deduction. $100,000 drop in the bucket fine. It allows Jeonbuk to stay on top and absorb the financial penalty as a mere brush off.

Questions remain including:

  • Why not a 15 point deduction? That would amount to 3 point deduction per bribe (5 payments on the record).
  • Why not fine them to the point where it hurts them (theoretically to where it hurts on-field performance to a degree) – something akin to giving up Kim Bo-Kyung or Lee Jae-Sung to FC Seoul (note to self: “Ok Tavern Owner: check for writer bias time!”)
  • Will the AFC Champions League kick Jeonbuk to the curb – and throw Jeonbuk out of the Asian tournament?

It’s this last point that has raised a lot of ruckus over the verdict. Here’s Korea Football News twitter:

A Vietnamese side had been kicked out of the tournament – but that bit of precedence may not be exactly applicable to Jeonbuk. Again it goes to the nuance of the offense, to which Jeonbuk can go back to their argument that they weren’t indicted for match fixing. There’s also the mess of untangling past ACL results. Besides, with a 4-1 aggregate lead going into the 2nd leg semifinal against FC Seoul, would that mean FC Seoul would move onto the title match, even if they lose the 2 legs on the pitch to Jeonbuk?  There’s enough in the language to suggest that the AFC has flexibility in their interpretation and isn’t likely to outright remove Jeonbuk from the ACL at this high profile stage.  We will await the verdict from the AFC but my prediction: Jeonbuk will be allowed to stay in the competition.

 

 

So here we are: a 9 point deduction now than next season, a measley $100,000 fine -something that won’t really impact them in the here and now, but more symbolic gestures of disapproval and faux accountability from the KFA.  It’s less about outrage from me, but more about pouring on the shame.  Shame that this happened in the first place. Paraphrasing Lee Young-Pyo, there has to be transparency in Korean football to begin the process of rebuilding trust so that the K-League can rebuild it’s brand and get people back to watch the best sport Korea really has to offer. At a time when the KBO baseball league logged it’s best ever 8 million spectator mark (a game that attracts Koreans with distractions galore to obscure the fact it’s such a tedious sport), it’s further shame on the K-League that they have trouble bringing in people to watch in it’s stadiums, especially as Korean clubs have been and currently dominating Asian continental competition.

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Extra time: and more weird stuff in the K-League Challenge, something I’m out of time and not able to really discuss, but here’s a twitter posting to start you off on another rabbit hole:

 

 

Extra Extra Time:

K-League Challenge only football in Korea today, K-League Classic will hold games on Sunday. Here’s some Challenge results (thanks Soccerway.com!)  Upsets upsets upsets, take a look:

FT Gyeongnam 4 – 3 Daejeon Citizen More info
FT Daegu 2 – 2 Ansan Mugunghwa More info
FT Bucheon 1995 2 – 3 Chungju

And Sunday’s K-League Classic fixtures:

Sunday, October 2

Dragons
1:00 AM

Jeju United

Sangju Sangmu
1:00 AM

Jeonbuk

Ulsan
1:00 AM

Incheon

Suwon
1:00 AM

Suwon FC

Gwangju
1:00 AM

FC Seoul

Seongnam
1:00 AM

Steelers
All times are in Eastern Time
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