Turkish referee punched in the face by club president, all football in the country suspended

By Isaac M December 12, 2023

Professional football in Turkey has been suspended after a top referee was punched to the ground by a club president at the end of a match in the country’s highest league.

Halil Umut Meler was attacked at the final whistle and hit in the face by MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca, sparking a melee of players and officials either joining the chaos or trying to intervene.

As Meler lay on the ground he was also kicked in the head at least once.

During the game he had sent off one player from each side in the Super Lig clash, before allowing an equaliser for opponents Rizespor in the seventh minute of injury time to force a 1-1 draw.

The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) condemned the attack and announced all matches will be suspended indefinitely, while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said sports are about “peace and brotherhood”.

In a statement, The TFF blamed the incident on a toxic culture towards referees fostered by players and club officials over years.

Pic: Anadolu via Getty
Players and officials became involved. Pic: Anadolu via Getty

 Referee Halil Umut Meler lies on the ground during the melee
Referee Halil Umut Meler lies on the ground during the melee

“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.

“In coordination with our state, all the criminal proceedings they deserve have begun to be implemented against those responsible and instigators of this inhumane attack.

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

“By the decision of the TFF Board of Directors, matches in all leagues have been postponed indefinitely.”

Faruk Koca (left) reacts as Halil Umut Meler lies on the ground
Faruk Koca (left) reacts as Halil Umut Meler lies on the ground

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Both Meler and Koca were taken to hospital, according to Turkish media, with Koca under guard and expected to be detained after treatment.

MKE Ankaragucu later issued an apology on X, formerly Twitter, saying: “As MKE Ankaragücü Sports Club, 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 Çaykur Rizespor match at Eryaman Stadium.”

Meler, 37, is on UEFA’s elite list and last season took charge of West Ham’s Conference League semi-final first leg against AZ Alkmaar.

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.”


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