12 December 2023

Domestic football in Turkey suspended after ‘shameful’ attack on referee

12 December 2023

Domestic football in Turkey has been suspended indefinitely after a “shameful” and “inhumane” attack on one of the country’s top referees, who was punched to the ground by a club president following a Super Lig match on Monday.

Halil Umut Meler was approached on the pitch and hit by MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca, sparking chaotic scenes as players and officials joined the melee or tried to intervene. It has since been confirmed that he has suffered a broken bone as a result of the attack.

Meler had sent off one player from each side, then allowed an equaliser for opponents Caykur Rizespor in the seventh minute of stoppage time to force a 1-1 draw.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was quoted in Turkish media condemning the attack, and the Turkish Football Federation swiftly announced the suspension.

Mehmet Buyukeksi, president of the TFF, condemned the incident, which is now in the hands of the police.

“Unfortunately, this attack is very unfortunate and shameful for Turkish football. We believe Turkish football doesn’t deserve this and we say enough is enough,” he said.

“All due criminal proceedings against the instigators and those responsible for this inhumane attack have been implemented in coordination with our Government. As Turkey’s football federation we held an emergency meeting and we have postponed matches in all leagues indefinitely.

“Our referee’s health is more important than anything. There’s a fracture in his bone. God willing, there isn’t a bigger problem. We will (talk) about these issues later, it’s still too new.”

An earlier statement on behalf of the federation blamed a longstanding toxic culture towards referees, fostered by many players and club officials, for the extreme developments. And the warning for Ankaragacu was stark.

“The irresponsible statements of club presidents, managers, coaches and TV commentators targeting referees have paved the way for this vile attack today,” said the TFF.

“The responsible club, its president, its managers and all criminals who attacked Meler will be punished in the most severe way.”

According to Turkish media, both Meler and Koca were subsequently taken to hospital, with the latter under guard and expected to be detained following treatment.

The 37-year-old Meler is on UEFA’s elite list and has previously officiated in the Europa League. He also took charge of West Ham’s Europa Conference League semi-final first leg against AZ Alkmaar last season.

The irresponsible statements of club presidents, managers, coaches and TV commentators targeting referees have paved the way for this vile attack today

President Erdogan said in a statement: “I condemn the attack on referee Halil Umut Meler after the MKE Ankaragucu-Caykur Rizespor match played this evening, and I wish him a speedy recovery.

“Sports means peace and brotherhood. Sports are incompatible with violence. We will never allow violence to take place in Turkish sports.”

FIFA president Gianni Infantino also weighed in to denounce the aggression.

“There is absolutely no place for violence in football, on or off the field,” he said.

“Events following the Turkish Super Lig match between MKE Ankaragucu and Caykur Rizespor are totally unacceptable and have no place in our sport or society.

“Without match officials there is no football. Referees, players, fans and staff have to be safe and secure to enjoy the game, and I call on the relevant authorities to ensure that this is strictly implemented and respected at all levels.”

MKE Ankaragucu apologised for the attack by their president, issuing a statement which read: “We are saddened by the incident that took place this evening. We apologise to the Turkish football public and the entire sports community for the sad incident that occurred after the Caykur Rizespor match at Eryaman Stadium.”

Caykur Rizespor responded by condemning the attack and wishing Meler a speedy recovery. A statement on their website read: “We strongly condemn the undesirable events that occurred after the Ankaragucu match we played today.

“We wish the entire referee community, especially the referee of the match, Halil Umut Meler, to get well soon.”

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