South Korea’s professional football league has imposed a record fine on one of its clubs for placing sex dolls in empty seats during a recent match played without spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic.

FC Seoul was forced to apologise this week after TV and online viewers spotted about two dozen sex dolls dotted around the stadium during the club’s 1-0 win over Gwangju FC on Sunday.

Social media users complained about the dolls, some of which were wearing the club’s shirt. Others had been dressed in T-shirts or were holding placards advertising a sex toy seller and a popular online streamer who apparently inspired their design, media reports said.

The club apologised for causing “deep concern” to fans, but claimed the dolls had been delivered due to a “mix-up” with the supplier, adding that it had received assurances before the match they were not intended for sexual purposes.

On Thursday, the K-League fined FC Seoul a record 100m won ($81,000), saying the club had “deeply humiliated” female football fans and damaged the 38-year-old league’s reputation.

After reviewing the case, league officials accepted FC Seoul’s claim that it did not know the mannequins were sex toys, but said it “could have easily recognised their use using common sense and experience”.

The league said in a statement: “The controversy over this ‘real doll’ incident has deeply humiliated and hurt women fans, and damaged the integrity of the league.”

FC Seoul, the 2016 league champions, accepted the decision, apologised and promised to prevent a repeat of the incident.

Earlier this month the K-League became the world’s first major football league to start playing after South Korea succeeded in containing the virus. The season had been due to begin in late February, at the height of the country’s outbreak.

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Spectators are banned from stadiums, however, with clubs attempting to fill up stands with cardboard cutouts, placards and banners, and create a semblance of atmosphere with crowd noises pumped through PA systems.

Many were unconvinced by FC Seoul’s claim that it believed the dolls were fashion mannequins. “I wonder how they even came up with this bizarre idea. This is an international disgrace,” said one online critic.



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