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News: Korean football pyramid to open up fully from 2026

The Korean football pyramid will fully open in 2026, allowing promotion and relegation from K League 2 to K3 and K5 to K4.

The Korea Football Association announced on Thursday 28th March that an agreement had been reached with K League.

"After reaching an agreement with the Korea Professional Football Association (K League), we have decided to implement a promotion system between K League 2 and K3. We will also implement a promotion system between K4 and K5."

This means that, with promotion and relegation to and from K League 1 and 2, as well as between K3 and K4, and K5 down to K7 already in place, the Korean football pyramid will be fully open.

"The KFA and the K League have been in talks in recent years to fully implement a promotion and relegation system. In particular, we reached an agreement after the two sides narrowed their differences over promotion between K League 2 and K3," said one KFA official.

What this means is that from 2026, K League 2 teams can be relegated and K3 teams can be promoted, with the changes to take effect from the 2027 season. But teams that win promotion to K League 2 must meet certain conditions, namely winning the K3 championship and obtaining a K League club license in accordance with the policies established by the association and the Korea Professional League. A K League club license refers to the basic elements that a professional team must possess, including stadium facilities, secretariat manpower size, and youth team development.

If the team that wins K3 fails to meet those requirements, the promotion system between K3 and K League 2 and the K3 League will not be implemented for that season. The association said it will discuss a two or three-part promotion system - automatic promotion and playoffs.

Promotion to the semi-professional K4 league will also be made only to the teams that finish first and second in K5 who are eligible for the K4 League club license. On the contrary, relegation for K4 League teams will be suspended for the time being. The association explained, "The decision was made in consideration of the expansion of the number of K4 League teams and the environmental differences between semi-professional and amateur players."

Even after 2027, a "fast track regulation" system will be established that will allow local governments with a population of 500,000 or more or companies within the top 100 in Korea to immediately join K League 2 when establishing a professional football team. In addition, if a new team acquires a K4 League club license, it can participate in the K4 League without going through the K5 League.

Sources: Sportal Korea, KFA

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