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Pro football clubs agree to shorten season delayed by coronavirus

All News 15:01 March 30, 2020

SEOUL, March 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's top-division pro football clubs agreed on Monday to shorten the 2020 season, which has yet to kick off due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Representatives from the 12 teams in the K League 1, however, failed to decide on the exact length and preferred start date for the season during their meeting at the Korea Football Association (KFA) House in Seoul on Monday.

The season was supposed to have started on Feb. 29, but it was postponed indefinitely on Feb. 24 in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Monday was the first meeting of club officials since the postponement.

The league had hoped that the club officials would be able to reach a consensus on finer details that could be submitted to the board of governors, made up of team presidents, for approval early next month.

In a normal season, the K League 1 clubs play 38 matches through the end of November or the beginning of December.

A meeting of representatives from the 12 teams in the K League 1 is underway at the Korea Football Association (KFA) House in Seoul on March 30, 2020. (Yonhap)

They first play 33 matches, and then the top six and the bottom six teams are split into two groups, Final A and Final B. These teams then play five more matches within their groups -- one against each opponent -- to determine the champion at the top and the relegated club at the bottom.

At Monday's meeting, the teams discussed the following alternatives: playing 33 matches without the "split" phase; playing 22 matches first and then 10 more in the split round; and playing 22 matches followed by five in the split stage.

"The club reps agreed that, with the start of the season having been pushed back, shortening the season is inevitable," a league official said. "There could be some differences in the number of home and away matches among clubs, but the teams all agreed to accept them."

According to the official, the club reps all recognized that it was still premature to settle on a new kickoff date, since the coronavirus hasn't been fully contained.

There are other external factors to be considered. Four K League 1 clubs -- Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Ulsan Hyundai FC and FC Seoul -- are competing in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League, the continent's top club tournament. That competition has been on hold since mid-February, and matches that have been rescheduled for early April remain in doubt.

In this file photo from March 11, 2020, Daegu FC players train at Daegu Stadium in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

If fixtures for the K League 1 and the AFC event overlap too much, these four teams will be unfairly penalized for reasons outside their control.

Then there are national team matches that have been pushed back because of the virus. During FIFA's international match windows, the K League 1 typically goes on a hiatus, with several players getting called up for the national team duties. But with the virus outbreak almost certain to force a shortened season, the league may have to keep playing during those periods.

South Korea had a World Cup qualifying match at home against Turkmenistan in March postponed, with another one against North Korea in June also a question mark.


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