12 December 2023

Turkish club president arrested after punching referee at end of Super Lig match

12 December 2023

A Turkish club president who attacked a referee has been arrested.

Referee Halil Umut Meler was approached and hit by MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca at the end of the Turkish Super Lig match against Caykur Rizespor.

Meler was taken to hospital after the attack, with the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) suspending domestic football in the country indefinitely in the wake of the incident.

The country’s justice minister, Yilmaz Tunc, said on his X account on Tuesday that Koca had been arrested “for injuring and threatening a public servant due to his public duty”.

Koca later announced his resignation as president via the Ankaragucu website.

Meler was visited in hospital in Ankara on Tuesday by TFF president Mehmet Buyukeksi and interior minister Ali Yerlikaya. Buyukeksi said Meler was likely to be discharged on Wednesday.

“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.”

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.”

Meler has refereed in UEFA club competitions, and was in charge of West Ham’s Europa Conference League semi-final first leg against AZ Alkmaar last season.

UEFA’s chief refereeing officer Roberto Rosetti condemned the attack and added: “Violence and abuse against referees have no place in football and must stop immediately.

“We urge the authorities and the responsible disciplinary bodies to take decisive and necessary action against anyone involved in acts of abuse and violence against referees.

“Such unacceptable and distressing behaviour is detrimental to the efforts of national associations to recruit referees, which are essential for the running of the game.”

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said the attack on Meler was “totally unacceptable”, adding: “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.”

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Meler on the telephone.

I hope that this incident, which I, more than anyone else, cannot accept, will be a reason for our sports life to be purified from mistakes, shortcomings and the culture of violence.

Erdogan wished Meler a speedy recovery and the referee said, in quotes translated by Sky Sports News: “Right now there’s a fracture under my eye but nothing else. They’re taking really good care of me at the hospital. I am grateful to them. They’re making it easy and comfortable.”

Koca announced on Tuesday afternoon he had quit in “order to prevent any further harm to the Ankaragucu club, Ankaragucu fans, the community I am in and my family”.

He added: “I hope that this incident, which I, more than anyone else, cannot accept, will be a reason for our sports life, especially our football community, to be purified from mistakes, shortcomings and the culture of violence.

“At the same time, I hope that the structural problems of Turkish football will be discussed more realistically due to this grave incident that I caused.”

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