Is Sangmu’s fate already decided?

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Is Sangmu’s fate already decided?

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The promotion-relegation system is a format football fans have desired for a long time in the Korea Professional Football League (K-League), and after 30 years, it is going to be implemented. But for Sangju Sangmu Phoenix FC, the military club, it may be unwelcome news.

On Monday, the K-League board of directors passed a proposal relegating the two bottom clubs in 2013 and an additional two teams in 2014 to the second division.

The league was originally planning to demote four teams and retain a 12-team first division from 2013, but the idea was opposed by the community-owned teams - Incheon United FC, Gyeongnam FC, Gwangju FC, Daejeon Citizen, Gangwon FC and Daegu FC.

Those clubs have said that although they welcome a promotion-relegation system, having a strong foundation in the second division should be a priority along with ensuring the survival of less wealthy clubs if relegated.

The number of teams to be relegated is still a point of controversy as some voices argue the first division will not be competitive since only two teams are being relegated. Some sources are even saying that the community-owned clubs may oppose the idea of relegating two additional teams in 2014 in future board meetings, keeping a 14-team K-League format.

However, before discussing the proper number of teams to be relegated, the K-League board should first decide on how to deal with Sangmu first. The board meeting on Monday has postponed its decision on Sangmu until its next meeting, which will be held the end of this year.

It is almost certain Sangmu is to be relegated after this year regardless of its performance since the Asian Football Confederation has asked each league to ensure its affiliated clubs should be independent corporations. As the Korean military’s sports unit, Sangmu can’t be changed into a corporation.

But if relegation is an inevitable result waiting for Sangmu, there should be some kind of “motivation factor” offered to the club, boosting the soldiers’ morale and the teams’ performance until the end.

To prepare for a full promotion-relegation system, the K-League adopted a “split format” for this year, which is a same format used in the Scottish Premier League.

The 16 teams will be split into two halves based on their records after 30 games. The teams will each play seven more games within their half. The bottom feeders in the lower half will then be relegated to the second division the following season.

But for Sangmu, this year’s system becomes meaningless and for the K-League officials it will give them a headache if proper incentives are not made clear.

For example, if the club finishes better than eighth place after 30 games, should it be included in the top half of the group because of its performance or the bottom half of the group because it is going to be relegated anyway?

For Sangmu, at least for the 2012 season, it is difficult to expect what its season goal will be. The team cannot advance to the AFC Champions League because it doesn’t meet AFC standards. Having the K-League trophy could still be the main goal, but in the end, what’s waiting for them is relegation.

Also, if the club is included in the bottom half of the group this season, I’m not so sure whether Sangmu players, who will go back to their former teams after their military duty is over, are going to give it their best if their former teams are on the verge of relegation.

Sangmu is designed to help athletes keep up their form while fulfilling their military service and promoting sports development at the same time. The players are soldiers, but let’s not forget that they are sportsmen who need motivation.

Giving a good reason for Sangmu to fight through this season will eventually keep the 2012 league race tighter and satisfy fans before the promotion and relegation actually starts. The K-League, the military and the government must produce an acceptable solution to this problem so as to not make Sangmu’s season meaningless.


By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]
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