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Two footballers won an important case at South Korea's Supreme Court, which underscores the rights of players in South Korea as employees.

Seongnam FC terminated the contracts of Lee Won-kyu and Moon Chang-hyun without asking their consent on 31 December 2016, one year before their deals officially expired.

As a consequence, Lee and Moon were not paid, excluded from their team, evicted from their accommodations and forced to accept a trade to another club.

Following a two-year battle, the Supreme Court recently ruled in favour of the two footballers, ordering Seongnam to pay each one at least their annual salary. Seongnam plays in K-League 1.

The case is important because footballers in South Korea have traditionally been reluctant to fight for their employment rights because of concerns it might prejudice their careers.

Lee and Moon were supported in their case by their player association, FIFPRO Korea, which was launched in 2017.

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“This is a landmark ruling which allows athletes to receive protection from unfair business practices,” said FIFPRO Korea chairman Lee Kuen-ho, an 89-time national team player and 2012 Asian Footballer of the Year.

“With this ground-breaking court ruling, we hope that these illegal and unjust practices will disappear,” said Kim Hoon-ki, the player association’s secretary general, who is pictured above (centre) between the two players.

Arbitration plans for Korean football

FIFA and FIFPRO are among stakeholders working with the South Korean national football association, national league and players’ association to set up a National Dispute Resolution Chamber (NDRC) to resolve domestic disputes between South Korean clubs and players in professional football.

NDRCs are endorsed by football stakeholders because they allow clubs and players to settle disputes more efficiently than national courts.

“We trust efforts will be made by all stakeholders to introduce an arbitration system in South Korean football serving players and clubs,” FIFPRO General Secretary Theo van Seggelen said. “We look forward to this becoming a reality in the near future.”

Within the project and in order to improve employment conditions for professional players in South Korea, stakeholders are also working on drawing up a standard contract for footballers and a local version of FIFA’s transfer regulations.