Hong Kong soccer has been thrown into turmoil after top flight team Tuen Mun said it would deregister all its players and sack its mainland sponsor ahead of an inquiry into the way they lost a match last weekend.
The dramatic move by Tuen Mun Sports Association (TMSA) on Friday follows a call by Steven Lo Kit-sing, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA), for the association to look into the result of the First Division match between Tuen Mun and Yokohama FC on December 22, which the former lost through an own goal in stoppage time.
It is unclear whether Tuen Mun will be able to put out a side to play Royal Southern on January 11 and meet their immediate fixture commitments.
The investigation also raises the spectre of soccer match fixing, a problem the sport is grappling with internationally.
The TMSA described the move to sack the team's sponsor - who have only been in charge since the start of the season - and cancel the registrations as unprecedented.
The match at Tang Shiu Kin Sports Ground was heading for a 1-1 draw when, with seconds left to play, Tuen Mun defender Li Ming, a second-half substitute, headed into his own net. The club is understood to have since lost contact with Li, a mainlander.
The TMSA said it would take back the management of the team from a locally registered company, which was set up by their Qingdao sponsor to run the club, including paying players and officials' salary.
The TMSA will deregister more than 30 professional and youth players with the HKFA until new contracts are signed. It was not clear last night whether that meant the same players or a whole team of new players.
"They [the sponsor] have not managed the team well, which has affected the reputation of the association and that's why we decided to take back the team," said TMSA soccer convenor Lo Kwong-chung.
Tuen Mun finished third in the First Division last season but are currently second from bottom of the 12-team league.
Lo said last week the result had raised eyebrows, especially at a time when Hong Kong soccer is in the midst of setting up a professional Premier League.
A team official, who asked not to be named, said last week that Li was given a warning letter after an unsatisfactory performance in a 5-0 loss to Kitchee last month. Li was substituted after only 30 minutes of that match.
The Jockey Club does not accept gambling on First Division games, but it is an open secret that illegal betting is widespread in the Pearl River Delta.