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12 December 2023

Authorities in Turkey say attack on referee should be ‘milestone’ for change

12 December 2023

The Turkish government and football federation have pledged to act swiftly and decisively after a referee was attacked during a top-flight match on Monday.

Referee Halil Umut Meler was approached on the pitch and hit by the president of MKE Ankaragucu, Faruk Koca, after a stoppage-time equaliser for their Turkish Super Lig opponents Caykur Rizespor.

Players and officials joined the melee or tried to intervene, and it has since been confirmed that Meler suffered a broken bone as a result of the attack.

Meler, who has officiated in UEFA matches in the past, including West Ham’s Europa Conference League semi-final first leg against AZ Alkmaar last season, was visited in hospital by the country’s interior minister and the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) president Mehmet Buyukeksi in Ankara on Tuesday.

The TFF has suspended all domestic football indefinitely following the attack.

Buyukeksi said Meler was set to be discharged on Wednesday, but insisted Monday’s horrific events had to be a “milestone” that led to fundamental change.

“This sad event should definitely not be forgotten,” Buyukeksi said in quotes reported on the TFF’s X account.

“This should be a milestone. Today we will have important meetings. With our minister of youth and sports, with our minister of internal affairs, our minister of justice and our board of directors.

“We will provide detailed information after tomorrow’s board meeting.

“In this meeting, we will discuss all the issues clearly. We will give detailed information about the decisions we will make about how the league will continue.

“Let’s underline again – we strongly condemn the incident on behalf of the Turkish Football Federation board of directors and myself. This incident happened, but we cannot accept it being back to its old state in two weeks.”

Interior minister Ali Yerlikaya was reported as saying by the TFF’s X account: “Our wish, together with our dear nation, is that there will be no violence of any kind in sports again.

I condemn it again. The matter is now in court

“Sport is about unity, solidarity and brotherhood. When we don’t like a decision, do we have to suddenly turn into something else?

“I condemn it again. The matter is now in court. The court process continues. We believe in justice.”

In October Turkey was awarded joint hosting rights for Euro 2032 alongside Italy.

Buyukeksi said he had already received assurances from UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin that Monday’s incident had not jeopardised that project.

“There is no negativity. President Ceferin called and said, ‘We are with you, we are ready to do whatever is necessary’,” Buyukeksi added.

“Please let us not misinform the public. Our goal is to ensure that football is played properly in Turkey and to continue as quickly as possible without any problems.

“But right now, our referee is important, the mental health of our referees is important. Other issues are not important. That is why we are here. We will make the necessary statements later.”

Buyukeksi had earlier said the matter was now in the hands of the police.

Turkish media reported that Koca had also been taken to hospital, where he was under guard and expected to be detained following treatment.

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