South Korea's K-League on Wednesday relegated Sangju Sangmu Phoenix to the second division, in a shock move designed to bring the league in line with Asian Football Confederation (AFC) guidelines.
As the sports division of the South Korean military, Sangju are in the unique position of being the K-League's only non-professional club. Their players are considered to have served their mandatory service after completing a two-year contract with the team as a form of 'alternative service'.
However, that arrangement fell outside of new AFC rules requiring that member clubs have professional contracts with their players. Sangju's continued membership in the K-League would have eventually prevented Korean clubs from participating in the Asian Champions League (ACL).
While the new rules were widely known, the K-League Association chose to wait until this week to announce their decision to demote the club to the semi-professional N-League, which serves as the country's second tier of competition.
"We've decided to refuse to play our remaining matches after consulting with the military service," Sangju executive chief Lee Jae-Cheol said in a press release. "We have no motivation to play, and the attitude of the military service is firm."
Sangju were placed in the K-League's 'Relegation Round' after ending the 30-round regular season in 15th place. The two clubs at the bottom of the table would have been relegated to the N-League; now the last-place team will be relegated along with Sangju.
"I think the association should have been more discreet," Sangju manager Park Hang-Seo told reporters. "I want to say this - let us stay in the K-League if we win the relegation round."
The K-League Association noted in their announcement that Sangju would again become eligible to complete in the K-League if they incorporate and offer professional contracts to their players. The club was scheduled to play away at Daegu on Saturday, September 15.