Sangju Sangmu Phoenix, the military football team in the K-League recently ordered down to the second division competition for 2013, will boycott its remaining matches this season, an official said Wednesday.
Lee Jae-cheol, the team's general manager, said the North Gyeongsang Province team will not play its final 14 games in the K-League, as the first-division competition prepares to begin the second phase of its new "split" system.
"The Armed Forces Athletic Corps and the Defense Ministry held talks today, and we've decided not to play the rest of the season," Lee said in a phone interview with Yonhap News Agency. "We just don't have the motivation to play out the season. The ministry is adamant about this."
Under the split league structure, the K-League has divided its 16 clubs into two groups based on their records after 30 games. Teams play 14 more games against each other within their group to determine the standings. Sangmu finished in 15th place after 30 games.
But on Tuesday, the K-League decided at a board meeting that the military team will be forcefully relegated regardless of its record because it has failed to meet international club standards.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) stipulates that all professional players "must have a written contract" with their clubs. But Sangmu players are technically under contracts with their original K-League teams because they're only playing for Sangmu to fulfill their mandatory military service requirement.
Healthy South Korean men between 18 and 35 must serve in the armed forces for about two years. Athletes who win an Asian Games gold medal or an Olympic medal of any color are granted exemptions. But those who don't often end up with Sangmu, which is a common name for the Armed Forces Athletic Corps. The unit has teams in baseball, basketball and volleyball, among other sports.
These players receive the same monthly wages as other conscripted soldiers, about 82,000 won (US$72.70) for privates and 108,300 won for sergeants. The football players, though, also receive bonus payments for each victory, goal, assist and hat trick.
The ruling drew ire of Sangju officials and players. Head coach Park Hang-seo also complained that his players had no sense of purpose and couldn't possibly compete against those who had something to play for over those 14 games.
Lee said the team had asked for more time to try to meet the AFC criteria and that it was "ludicrous" for the league to make an abrupt decision with the season still ongoing.
"The K-League doesn't want to have anything to do with us, and I see no reason why we should stick around anymore," Lee said. "Rather than playing in the second division, perhaps we should declare ourselves amateurs and play with them instead." (Yonhap)