K-League Scandal v4.0 Exploding: Jeonbuk’s Turn in the Spotlight

It’s been a while, but return I must to deliver some yoda-speak to the new revelation/allegation that perennial high flying K-League club Jeonbuk Hyundai is now embroiled in the ongoing bribery scandal, originally taking down Gyeongnam FC President Ahn Jong-Bok and two K-League referees in October. Those payments occurred while Gyeongnam was in relegation struggles in 2013 & 2014, but only came to light last fall. Today a bombshell headline dropped on the north Jeolla club as the two referees, already serving jail sentences were indicted again along with a Jeonbuk scout for match fixing payments by said scout in 2013. Timing? Very off as Jeonbuk prepares for 2nd leg in ACL Round of 16 against Melbourne tomorrow (7pm Korea Time / 6 AM Tavern EST) 

Friend of the Tavern and legit Korean sports journalist for Goal.com and several other media outfits, Steve Han has been on top of this unfolding scandal expansion, let’s first start with a look at his twitter activity in the last few hours:



One really important article to re-read today is Steve Han’s Football Channel Asia article from January, still vitally relevant (despite it being so 4 months ago by internet age standards. “Like, whatever,” dismisses the valley girl football cynic. We don’t listen to her very much btw).

Ok, back to Han’s “Fearful K-League Still Running From Decades-Long Corruption,” it chronicles the utter lack of learning from and rooting out corruption inside the K-League when the 2011 scandal really blew the lid; while players suffered the wrath of the judicial code (and resulted in the suicides of 3 K-League players) it did next to nothing to punish league or club officials.  Even before 2011, living legend Cha Bum-Kun, after stepping down as KNT manager in 1998, revealed to Korean media eye witnessing accounts of the systemic culture of K-League corruption (back when he managed Ulsan Hyundai in early 90’s). Instead of the country launching a thorough investigation, he was hit with a 5 year ban on footballing activities in Korea. The KFA countered that Cha created an agenda to dishonor Korean football. That bullshit really happened. Patriotic blindness + ultra nationalism = whistle blowers getting punished.

Another legendary ex baller, Lee Young-Pyo, who hasn’t been shy of speaking his mind, whether defending Park Chu-Young (when his military deferment came to light with Monaco residency) or on the need to rethink how the K-League can get more people to watch games, continues to come out strongly in pressing the K-League publicly to be more transparent and not white wash these incidents.

With sagging and literally embarrassing attendance rates (just compare away Asian Champions League games and the full decked out flag waving foot stomping support vs the low low low pathetic attendance in the home matches), poor TV coverage and consequently bad ratings, domestic marquee players fleeing to other countries abroad to pursue their footballing careers, atrocious player salaries, this isn’t just a trainwreck about to happen. The K-League has already crashed and few of Korea’s baseball crazy slouch couch potatoes has even bothered to notice.  The bribery scandal is just the tip of this wreck.

Which brings to mind the Old Tavern owner’s recommendations at this point:

  • A complete overhaul of the entire K-League structure. Top to bottom. Ownership of stingy chaebols and it’s poorer citizen owned clubs -that has to be reconfigured. If City Group (Manchester City owners) wants to own a K-League club – for Buddha’s sake, DON’T put up obstacles in their way.  Well-endowed passionate football owners along with public stakeholders would take responsible ownership and run it, perhaps using the way Bundesliga clubs operate as a model template to go by.
  • Overhaul the KFA. I know, it’s not necessarily involved in day to day domestic operation of the K-League per se, but rooting out corruption and becoming 100% transparent in Korean football starts with an organization that undoubtedly used less than ethical means to procuring the 2002 World Cup- with currently indicted FIFA chief Blatter in charge.
  • With KFA overhaul comes a cleaner (perhaps better paid and not as susceptible to bribes) referees, as that group falls under the KFA umbrella of operations. Better pay does translate to rooting out corruption. After all, some of these envelopes of cash according to prosecutors in Busan involved payments 1 Million Won- that makes it to about $840 in US cash. Such high risk for a payment not coming close to paying off a kid’s college tuition – you have to wonder the financial predicament many in the K-League, from players to refs are working under.
  • Utilize bright marketers who can re-brand the K-League as the “it” place to be and the “it” thing to watch and converse near the water cooler about. Admittedly it is not going to be a cakewalk to accomplish this reversal of cultural trends, but if the US can send men to the moon, it’s not mission impossible to reset Koreans to be passionate domestic football supporters. Japan accomplished this with the J-League, and it started up 10 years after the K-League did.
  • From Yonhap News, they tweeted out that investigators are now rummaging through other Korean pro sports to see if their referees have been bribed as well. I know, this is a bit of schadenfraude at work here, but if Korean baseball, which is pretty popular now in the peninsula (I blame the US for introducing this tedious, let me repeat, tedious sport), has a wonderful scandal of their own, but even bigger and splashier than K-League’s 2011 debacle, might level the playing field so to speak.
  • Financial and league operational transparency. Faith can be restored, at least that’s what Lee Young-Pyo believes. If so, perhaps the football landscape can return to a righteous, sustainable and prodigious path to a brighter, better future.


The timetable of said reforms needs to be complete by the beginning of the 2017 K-League season. That’s approximately 9 month, enough time for a newborn to come out of the womb. Let’s hope this metaphorical baby will become a wonderful beast, lively and full of footballling quality -with ethical reforms to keep it straight -and financial sustainability to keep growing.

Which reminds me to leave on a positive note.  Lee Seung-Woo’s goal for Barcelona’s Juvenil A – they drew 1-1 last week with ASA United in the Next Gen tournament. Here’s the goal and one of many hopes for the future of Korean football:


Extra Time:

For another reason for optimism, we look at the past as it meets with the present. Here’s a tweet revisiting scenes of pure joy in Seoul in 2002

That happened.

And here’s a tweet, FIFA interviews Park Ji-Sung and Ahn Jung-Hwan about young players they are keeping an eye on for the future.






About Roy Ghim 454 Articles
The old Tavern Owner

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