South Korean league side FC Seoul has said it has been handed a US$81,300 fine (around 3.4 billion rials) after placing sex dolls in its stands to add to the atmosphere during a closed match.
South Korea’s K League is the only top competition in Asia that is pushing ahead with matches without spectators.
The club has since said it would “humbly accept” the decision.
Responding to criticism, the club issued an apology on Instagram and Facebook.
“Regarding the cheer mannequins that were installed during the game on the 17th, we sincerely apologize for causing deep concern to the fans,” the statement said.
Fans criticized the club online and said it had blown the chance to show off the K League to an international audience.
“FC Seoul messed it up making the league look salacious,” wrote one. “It’s really ugly and dirty.”
However others said the whole incident had been blown out of proportion.
“Those who don’t even watch football normally are turning this into a thing,” wrote another fan. “Honestly, people who don’t really care about this just think that they are mannequins and don’t pay any attention.”
The dolls were in the stands for FC Seoul’s second game of the delayed K League season, surprising those who tuned in to watch the game.
Some of the figures were holding signs for a company that makes sex dolls, and fans pointed out that they looked like adult dolls rather than mannequins.
FC Seoul explained that although the dolls were made to look like real people, rather than conventional mannequins, it had checked they were “not at all related to adult products” before agreeing to install them, and had been told they would be mannequins of the kind commonly used to model clothes.
Staff “went through the confirmation process that they were not adult products several times,” said the statement, and didn’t notice that an ad for adult products was visible on the day of the game.
“This is our fault without excuse,” said the club. “Regardless of the reason, we apologize again for causing great concern to the fans who love and cheer for FC Seoul.”
Maybe FC Seoul can take a leaf out of German Bundesliga side Borussia Moenchengladbach.
For 19 euros (close to 900,000 rials), the club offers to put a “cardboard you” in the stands – and visiting teams’ fans can book cut-outs for the away end.
The club said more than 12,000 such effigies have been ordered so far.
“The campaign organizers are regularly overrun with orders,” said Gladbach fan representative Thomas Weinmann.
But for many, the real problem of “ghost matches” is the lack of noise and eerie atmosphere with the shouts of players and coaching staff echoing around deserted arenas.
One company though – Munich-based hack-CARE – has developed an app which it says produces piped crowd noise based on the reactions of supporters watching on their sofas.
Fans who download its Myapplause app choose which club to support and which match to watch, and then get four options: cheer, clap, sing or whistle.
The app can support up to 350,000 users per match and, depending on the number of clicks and sound distribution, piped crowd noise is produced both at users’ homes and in the stadium.