It’s better not to say what you can’t do.
The Korea Football Association’s Refereeing Committee concluded that Ulsan Hyundai midfielder Lee Kyu-sung’s unruly behavior during the K League 1 22nd round match against Incheon United at the Incheon Football Stadium on March 12 was not an act of revenge. At the time, Lee Kyu-sung swung his arm wildly at Moon Ji-hwan, an opposing player, regardless of the ball. His arm struck Moon Ji-hwan in the face. Moon immediately fell to the pitch and cried out in pain.
It was clearly intentional and the most vicious foul that can happen on the pitch. Swinging an elbow while in the air is also a red card. Lee Kyu-sung’s behavior was unquestionably a red card. However, the referee saw it from a relatively easy angle and let it slide. If he didn’t see it, it was incompetence, and if he saw it, it was negligence and dereliction of duty.
If the referee missed it, it was no different for the VAR room, who had to correct it. The VAR is supposed to help the referee make the right call via video, and the referee didn’t do that. If he did, it’s even worse. A three-second replay shows that the foul was an ejection because the VAR didn’t explain the situation to the referee. Both the referee and the VAR can’t escape responsibility.
It seems that the Korean Football Association, the ‘last resort’ for the final confirmation and correction of refereeing errors, has abdicated its authority. The media analysis of the KFA’s Match Evaluation Committee found that there was a possibility of post-mortem discipline, so it asked the KFA’s referee committee. The federation was concerned and asked for a review, but the referee committee said that while it was a foul play, it was not a rough enough foul to warrant a direct ejection.
“Based on the angle and speed at which Lee Kyu-sung swung his arm, the referee committee decided that it was more of a shove than a punch,” said an official from the Football Association, adding, “We also took into account that the referee was communicating with the VAR room at the time.”
After the game, the Korean soccer community posted a dashcam video of Lee Kyu-sung’s unsportsmanlike conduct, and public opinion was stirred. Unsurprisingly, the voices of soccer fans criticizing Lee Kyu-sung were dominant. Even Ulsan fans were unwilling to defend Lee’s behavior. Fans are not the only ones criticizing Lee Kyu-sung. Most of the officials in the K League are of the same opinion.
“If this is not an ejection, I don’t know what is. The referee, the VAR, and the association should be ashamed of themselves for explaining it like that. It’s not our team’s fault, but it really makes me angry. In the future, if they don’t send us off for doing that, we should do it too,” he said, criticizing the association and the referees.
Another club official also criticized the association and the referees, saying, “I thought there would be post-game discipline. Even with a VAR, there will be misjudgments, so if you concede a hundred times, you can assume that you might not have seen the situation at the time. It’s similar to the case of Han Kyo-won in the past. It’s very embarrassing.”
In 2015, Han was suspended for six games and fined 6 million won by the Korean Professional Football Association for punching an opponent in the face during a game. He missed a total of eight games due to the direct ejection and additional discipline. There was also the club’s own disciplinary action. While the punishment is less severe, it doesn’t make sense for Lee to not be disciplined at all.
In the future, there will be no more ejections for fouls like this in the K League. The referee, VAR, and the referee committee should be able to make the same judgment in similar situations, as there is a clear guideline for such a controversial decision. It’s unlikely, but even if a player gets in a bad mood and swings his arm like Lee Kyu-sung every game, we can’t give him a red card. It’s a decision that makes the K League look like the UFC.
The VAR referee for this game was the same one who officiated the championship match between Ulsan and Jeonbuk last October. 스포츠토토
In that game, two Jeonbuk players suffered concussions after a series of wild fouls, but the referee was consistent in his calls, much to the chagrin of soccer officials. There was even a case of Jeonbuk sending a letter to question the referee. When the same referee repeatedly favors a team, it creates unnecessary suspicion, even if it’s not true. Neither the majority of Ulsan nor its fans would respect or want that.