Turkish leagues suspended after Ankaragucu club president hits referee

Faruk Koca (R), president of Ankaragucu, hits referee Halil Umut Meler to the ground after the end of the Turkish Super Lig game against Rizespor at Eryaman Stadium in Ankara, Türkiye, December 11, 2023. /CFP

Faruk Koca (R), president of Ankaragucu, hits referee Halil Umut Meler to the ground after the end of the Turkish Super Lig game against Rizespor at Eryaman Stadium in Ankara, Türkiye, December 11, 2023. /CFP

The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) has suspended all of the country’s domestic leagues after Faruk Koca, president of Ankaragucu, punched a referee in the face during the Super Lig game against Rizespor at Eryaman Stadium in Ankara, Türkiye, on Monday.

When the referee announced the end of the 1-1 draw in the 97th minute, Koca entered the field and punched referee Halil Umut Meler, causing him to fall to the ground. A Turkish court ordered the arrest of Koca, and another two were arrested for “injuring a public official,” according to Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc.

“I would like to announce to the public that I have resigned from the MKE Ankaragucu presidency to prevent any further harm to the Ankaragucu club, Ankaragucu fans, the community I am in and my family,” Koca said on Tuesday.

“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,” he added.

Meler was also kicked by home fans who invaded the field when the accident happened, but he managed to make it to the locker room.

Referee Halil Umut Meler (L2) receives a punch to the face from Faruk Koca, president of Ankaragucu, after the end of the Turkish Super Lig game against Rizespor at Eryaman Stadium in Ankara, Türkiye, December 11, 2023. /CFP

Referee Halil Umut Meler (L2) receives a punch to the face from Faruk Koca, president of Ankaragucu, after the end of the Turkish Super Lig game against Rizespor at Eryaman Stadium in Ankara, Türkiye, December 11, 2023. /CFP

Referee Halil Umut Meler (L2) receives a punch to the face from Faruk Koca, president of Ankaragucu, after the end of the Turkish Super Lig game against Rizespor at Eryaman Stadium in Ankara, Türkiye, December 11, 2023. /CFP

“Faruk Koca punched me under my left eye; I fell to the ground. While I was on the ground, other people kicked me in the face and other parts of my body many times,” Meler said. “Koca said to me and my colleagues, ‘I will finish you.’ Addressing me, he said, ‘I will kill you.'”

Mehmet Yorubulut, the chief doctor at Acibadem Hospital, which examined Meler, confirmed that there will be no brain or permanent damage to the referee.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino called Koca’s act “totally unacceptable” and said it has “no place in our sport or society.”

“Without match officials, there is no football,” he said.

Howard Webb, the chief refereeing officer of the governing body of England’s referees, Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), expressed support for Meler.

“PGMOL stand in solidarity with our refereeing colleagues in Turkey and in particular Halil Umut Meler, who was the subject of a shameful attack following a Turkish Super Lig game last night,” Webb said. “We wish Halil a full and speedy recovery.”

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