Asian Champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Refused Entry to AFC Champions League
|(Photo Credit: Howard Cheng)|
Despite having already been selected in Group H alongside Jiangsu Suning, Adelaide United and one other competitor to be decided via playoffs, the AFC’s recently established Entry Control Body has been pushed into reviewing Jeonbuk’s participation in the competition after complaints were made by Adelaide United.
The ECB was chaired by Liu Chi of China, with Adelaide-based Australian judge Rauf Soulio as its deputy chairman. The rest of the five man panel was comprised of members from India, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The ECB was established upon the recommendation of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) following the overturning of a much stronger match manipulation case by AFC Cup contenders Phnom Penh FC. In this case, the AFC initially expelled the Cambodian club for the competition only for the CAS to overrule it and include them in this year’s competition. The ECB was established in late December after the group draws were made to function independently from the AFC after the Phnom Penh case had failed to be adequately dealt with.
Jeonbuk were convicted last year of bribery with the KFA docking them nine points and fining the club 100 million South Korean Won. Jeonbuk would later go on to lose the title on the last day of the season to rivals FC Seoul despite initially have a 14 point lead prior to the point deduction. Whilst Jeonbuk were found guilty, there was no link to suggest that the scout convicted of bribery had operated with anyone else at the club nor had there been any attempt to fix the outcome of the matches. The scout in question had made five payments of one million South Korean to two referees in the 2013 season in a bid for more favourable on-field decisions.
Article 73.6 of the AFC statutes state that “a team attempting to arrange or influence the outcome of the match at national or international level can be refused Admission to AFC competition with immediate effect”. Whilst Jeonbuk did not arrange any outcomes and they were therefore found not guilty of match-fixing, they fell afoul of attempting to influence the match through bribery for favourable decisions.
Despite Jeonbuk’s entry into the tournament being announced over a week before the group stage draw, strong criticism arose from an editorial in leading Australian news outfit and broadcaster Fox Sports after the groups were announced. A further complaint from fellow Group H competitors Adelaide United was also lodged before a review of Jeonbuk’s inclusion was officially reported by media outlets.
With Jeonbuk now excluded from the competition, Jeju United will take their place in Group H with Ulsan Hyundai taking Jeju’s playoff spot. Adelaide United chairman Greg Griffin had previously said he will further challenge the AFC if another team from the K League replaces the Asian champions, airing his feelings that “The Koreans have lost the right to field a team in Group H” and his preference for both teams from the play-offs into that group should be included instead. It remains to be seen how the Adelaide chairman will react to Jeju’s inclusion.
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors have since announced they will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and bid for the decision to be overturned.