A South Korean soccer club has been slapped with a 100 million won ($124,000) fine for putting inflatable dolls in empty seats during a match last weekend.
The K-League is one of the few soccer leagues operating during the coronavirus pandemic, with games being played in empty stadiums.
“The disciplinary committee decided to take heavy disciplinary action considering the graveness of the incident, caused by the ‘real doll’, that has greatly insulted and hurt female and family fans and to prevent similar incidents going forward,” K-League said in a statement on Wednesday.
FC Seoul’s attempts to increase the atmosphere at Seoul World Cup Stadium backfired despite its 1-0 win over Gwangju on Sunday.
The club had earlier expressed “sincere remorse” as public backlash intensified but initially said it believed it was using regular mannequins – not sex dolls – to mimic a home crowd.
2016 K League winners FC Seoul inadvertently used sex dolls rather than fashion mannequins to help fill empty stands this weekend. The club has apologised. Both the club and the supplier are pointing fingers at others. (It's not just COVID-19 you need to avoid catching!) #kleague pic.twitter.com/59rSU8XxYL
— Devon Rowcliffe (@WhoAteTheSquid) May 17, 2020
About 25 mannequins, supplied by a local company and dressed in FC Seoul colours, were quickly identified as inflatable dolls by logos that seemingly referenced the name of an adult toy manufacturer.
Some of the dolls had been dressed in the club’s kit while others were holding supportive placards.
Fans watching the match on television took to social media to raise doubts about the inflatable spectators.
Such advertising is in breach of the competition’s rules, and K-League officials have referred the matter to a disciplinary committee.
FC Seoul was fearful it could have been fined or have points deducted.
The club also escaped being punished for damaging the prestige of the league at a time when it had been basking in unprecedented international attention.
— K League (@kleague) May 18, 2020
On May 8, the K-League became the first major soccer league to start playing after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered sports around the world.
The opening game attracted 19 million viewers worldwide.
There could be worse to follow for FC Seoul, the 2016 league champions.
According to reports, Seoul Facilities Corporation, which operates the stadium, is investigating a potential breach.
As part of its lease agreement, the club is required to obtain permission in advance for advertising.
By not doing so, it could be expelled from the stadium where it has been based since 2004.
FC Seoul issued another apology on Wednesday as the case continued to dominate sports news.
“We apologise deeply to all those concerned about the unfortunate situation that occurred,” the club said.
“We will review our internal procedures to ensure this does not happen again.”