K-League faces shutdown threat over scandal

SEOUL - South Korea's government has threatened to "shut down" the country's professional football league after losing patience with an embarrassing match-fixing scandal, which is in danger of spiralling out of control.

Clubs whose players are found guilty of being involved in match-fixing have been warned they face expulsion from Korea's domestic competition, local media reported on Thursday.

"If K-League players are caught trying to throw matches from this July, their teams will be forced out of the league," Park Sun-kyoo, Vice Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism told South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

"We will also consider shutting down the K-League in the worst-case scenario."

South Korea international Choi Sung-kuk's confession on Wednesday he had been involved in fixing results was the latest blow in the worst crisis the league has faced since it was established in 1983.

Vice Minister Park said the K-League faced the strictest punishment possible after an emergency meeting with officials of all 16 K-League clubs.

"The problem isn't simply with players and it has spread over to the rest of professional football and football as a whole," he added. "Teams must also act responsibly."

Players were given until the end of June to come forward under a K-League amnesty in return for more lenient penalties, but Park said this has been extended until July 7.

A former South Korea national team goalkeeper, whose name was withheld, became the first to turn himself in, before Choi's shock admission.

The K-League's sting has already led to life bans for 10 players - eight from the Daejon Citizen club alone - after they were found to have taken cash from gambling brokers.

Last month a player was found dead in a hotel room and media reports claimed a suicide note was found linking him with the match-fixing ring.

Even the top-flight military team Sangu Phoenix had three players hauled in last week for questioning as accusations kept mounting.

The state-run sports bookmaker, Sports Toyo, already prevented from taking bets games since the corruption scandal broke, could be stripped of K-League, Park warned.

Prosecutors are scheduled to announce the findings of their investigations on July 7, he added.

Choi, currently with the Suwon Bluewings, has told officials he had been at meetings with other players last year plotting to throw games, but denied taking cash.

Suwon coach Yoon Sung-hyo sought to play down the humiliation of losing a player who represented South Korea at the 2004 Olympics and 2007 Asian Cup.

"We've won four games in a row and are on a nice roll," Yoon said, arguably missing the point slightly. "One player won't affect our momentum."