'Embarrassed' football club president resigns after punching referee

By Isaac M December 14, 2023

The president of a top Turkish football club has resigned after punching a referee to the ground at the end of a match.

Faruk Koca, who has also been arrested, said he was “embarrassed” and “saddened” by the incident.

The MKE Ankaragucu president hit the referee Halil Umut Meler at the end of the game in the country’s highest league on Monday.

The punch sparked 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.

Koca announced his resignation in a statement on the club’s website.

“Nothing can legitimise or explain the violence that I committed,” he said.

“Sports fields should be the venue for gentlemanly competition. Any attitude that casts a shadow on fair play, including my own, should not be present in stadiums,” he said.

Meler was hospitalised with a slight fracture near his eye, but is not in a serious condition.

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.

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

Turkey‘s minister of justice Yilmaz Tunc said Koca had been arrested for “injuring and threatening a public servant due to his public duty”.

Two suspects accused of kicking Meler were also arrested. Three others were freed from custody on condition that they report regularly to police.

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The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) has suspended all league games indefinitely.

It condemned the attack in a statement, blaming the incident on a toxic culture towards referees fostered by players and club officials over a number of years.

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Turkey referee attack: What happened?

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

TFF president Mehmet Buyukeksi, who visited Meler in hospital alongside Turkey’s interior minister Ali Yerlikaya, said it should be considered a “milestone”.

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President Erdogan calls injured referee

In a telephone conversation, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wished Meler a speedy recovery.

“Sports means peace and brotherhood,” Mr Erdogan wrote on X.

“The sport is incompatible with violence. We will never allow violence to take place in Turkish sports.”

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.

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

The TFF president said he had received assurances from UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin that Monday’s incident has not jeopardised that.

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