Turkey suspends all league games after club president punches referee at a top-flight match

AP , Tuesday 12 Dec 2023

The Turkish Football Federation has suspended all league games in the country after a club president punched the referee in the face at the end of a top-flight match.

MKE Ankaragucu
Referee Halil Umut Meler holds his face as he lies on the ground after being punched by MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca, center, at the end of the Turkish Super Lig soccer match between MKE Ankaragucu and Caykur Rizespor in Ankara, Monday, Dec. 11, 2023. AP

 

MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca attacked referee Halil Umut Meler on the pitch late Monday after the final whistle, following a 1-1 draw in a Super Lig game against Caykur Rizespor.

The referee, who fell to the ground, was also kicked in a melee that occurred after fans also invaded the pitch after Rizespor scored a last-minute equalizer.

The federation announced it suspended all league games indefinitely after an emergency meeting held to discuss the violence.

Meler was hospitalized with a slight fracture near his eye but was not in a serious condition. He was expected to be discharged on Wednesday.

Koca, who was considered to be at risk of a heart attack, was also hospitalized overnight. He was ordered arrested pending trial on charges of injuring a public official after questioning by prosecutors, Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc announced on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

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

During his questioning, Koca denied causing any injury, insisting that he merely slapped the referee, according to HaberTurk television. The club president also blamed the incident on Meler, whom he accused of “wrongful decisions” and provocative acts, the station reported, citing unnamed judicial officials.

“This attack is unfortunate and shameful in the name of football,” federation chief Mehmet Buyukeksi said after the emergency meeting.

“We say enough is enough,” he added, insisting that all involved in the violence would be punished.

Buyukeksi also blamed the attack on a culture of contempt toward referees in Turkey.

“Everyone who has targeted referees and encouraged them to commit crimes is complicit in this despicable attack,” he said. “The irresponsible statements of club presidents, managers, coaches and television commentators targeting referees have opened the way for this attack.”

Speaking to reporters after visiting Meler in hospital, Buyukeksi said he hoped the incident would become a “milestone” for change for soccer in Turkey, which has been selected to co-host the 2032 European Championship with Italy.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also condemned the attack.

“Sports means peace and brotherhood. The sport is incompatible with violence. We will never allow violence to take place in Turkish sports,” he wrote on X.

Violence in soccer is commonplace in Turkey and some other European countries despite efforts to crack down on it.

On Monday, Greece announced that all top-flight soccer matches would be played without fans in the stadiums for the next two months following a sport-related riot last week that left a police officer with life-threatening injuries.

Earlier this month, France’s sports minister called for “a global and extraordinarily determined to response” to violence in soccer after the death of a fan. Ameli Oudea-Castera said the measures could include routine bans on fans traveling to away matches that present a risk of violence.

The season in France has been plagued by homophobic and racist chanting in the stands while a team bus was pelted with stones and a game was called off because of crowd trouble.

In another recent incident, four British police officers were injured after heavy clashes with Polish hooligans from Legia Warsaw before a Europa Conference League game against Aston Villa on Nov. 30. Nearly 50 Polish fans were arrested after violence erupted outside the stadium.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

 
 
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