By Joori Roh
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's professional football league may start cancelling games due to poor air quality after the national governing body issued guidelines to protect players and fans from pollution.
Worsening air pollution has been a chronic problem in South Korea, especially during the spring, and has resulted in the professional baseball league cancelling games due to the issue for the first time this season.
The Seoul government has taken steps to reduce the levels of fine dust in the air, including suspending production at several coal-fired plants, but is also seeking help from China to reduce cross-border pollution.
The Korea Football Association (KFA) issued new guidelines on fine dust on Monday, stating that if the level in the air exceeded 300 micrograms per cubic metre for more than two consecutive hours then games can be cancelled.
Fine dust, classified as particles smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter, can cause respiratory ailments and hamper the immune system.
According to Korea Environment Corporation figures, the concentration levels are divided into four categories: 0-30 (good), 31-80 (normal), 81-150 (bad) and over 151 (very bad).
The Korea Baseball Organisation cancelled a game in Gwangju, in the southwest of the country, on Sunday after the level of fine dust in the air was recorded at 422 an hour before the scheduled first pitch.
KFA official Kim Hae-kyung told Reuters on Tuesday that K League representatives at stadiums would be responsible for determining whether a game should be cancelled due to pollution but acknowledged the difficulties in assessing conditions.
"Weather can change in real time, which is difficult to predict, so we think the on-site team would be the best to decide on whether to call off a game or not," Kim said.
Kim added that since wind influenced the level of fine dust in the air, the situation could change rapidly, adding that while teams would face huge difficulties in rearranging games, health concerns could not be ignored.
"It is definitely more difficult to reschedule football games than baseball games... but the point of this operational guideline is to protect the health of the players, fans and on-site organisers," said Kim, adding that fine dust was classified as a first class carcinogen.
A K League official told Reuters on Monday that cancelling games would be difficult.
"Soccer is not like baseball. Baseball teams have many home games but in soccer each team only has 38 (league) games a year in total so it's not easy to arrange an alternative if a game is cancelled," the official said.
(Additional reporting by Haejin Choi; Writing by Peter Rutherford; Editing by John O'Brien)