By Jung Min-ho
The Korean Basketball League (KBL) is under fire following the disclosure that a referee took bribes in return for making biased calls.
The 44-year-old referee, only identified as Shin, took 2 million won ($1,838) in cash and a laptop computer from an unnamed official from a KBL team for "favorable calls" in October 2008, according to the Busan Metropolitan Police Agency on Tuesday.
The KBL discovered the illicit action a year later and cut his salary by 10 million won and suspended him from duty for three round of the regular season without reporting the matter to the police. Shin claimed that he returned the bribes to the official after a month, noting he couldn't reach the official immediately afterwards.
Police unearthed the case during an investigation into bribery cases in amateur basketball, which is represented by the Korea Basketball Association (KBA), where 151 people were implicated and 73 indicted.
Rumors and speculation about bribes in the sport are swirling and dark clouds are gathering over Korean basketball, which started its new season on Oct. 13.
"We deeply regret disappointing the fans," a KBL official said in a press release Tuesday. "We have reinforced education for referees as well as disciplinary action against bribery once it is found as well as the establishment of a new department to eradicate it."
The KBA also called a board of directors meeting Wednesday to come up with ways to prevent further wrongdoings.
"A total of 14 members attended a meeting to discuss the issue and we came to the conclusion that the president stepping down would be irresponsible at this point as his term only has two months left," said Kim Gap-seon, chief of staff for the KBA. "So President Lee Jong-gul decided to set up a committee where those guilty of bribery charges will be punished."
Any member who breaks the KBA rules and is jailed as a result will be permanently stripped of any role in the organization. If they just receive a fine, the KBA will discuss whether to penalize them further, Kim said.
With many star players like Lee Sang-min, Moon Kyung-eun and Woo Ji-won having retired, the uncovered dirty money is likely to cast a shadow over the future of the sport that is already losing popularity.
Starting with 401,161 ticket sales in 1997, the KBL almost tripled that number by the 2001-2002 season when it saw 1.1 million people through the turnstiles. However, the figure has grown to just 1.3 million over the past decade. In contrast, baseball has been posting record attendances with each year better than the last over the past few seasons.