Turkey referee punched: Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca arrested after attack

A Turkish football club president has been arrested after punching a referee following a top-flight match on Monday.

MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca ran onto the pitch and struck match official Halil Umut Meler after his team conceded a 97th-minute equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Caykur Rizespor.

Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc said Koca and two others were formally arrested for “injuring a public official”.

All Turkish league football has been suspended.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino said the incident was “totally unacceptable” and violence had “no place in our sport or society”.

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

Tunc said Koca and two others had been arrested after prosecutors took statements and a judicial control decision had been imposed on three other suspects.

“The investigation is continuing meticulously,” he added.

Koca later issued a statement via Ankaragucu saying he had resigned as club president and apologising for his actions.

“No matter how great an injustice or how wrong [the officiating] was, nothing can legitimise or explain the violence that I perpetrated,” he said.

“I apologise to the Turkish refereeing community, the sports public and our nation.”

He added he felt “great embarrassment” for the “grave incident that I caused” but hoped it could help Turkish football address its “culture of violence”.

Turkey's Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya visits referee Halil Umut Meler

What happened?

Hosts Ankaragucu had taken an early lead in Monday night’s Super Lig match before they had a player sent off after 50 minutes. Caykur equalised late on after also having a player sent off, and chaotic scenes followed the final whistle.

Having been knocked to the ground, Meler received several blows as he lay on the turf, suffering injuries including a small facial fracture.

He was pictured on Tuesday lying in a hospital bed with a swollen face and wearing a neck brace.

Mehmet Yorubulut, chief doctor of Acibadem hospital, said Meler had not suffered any brain damage and was likely to be discharged on Wednesday.

“The bleeding in Meler’s left eye started to decrease,” said Yorubulut, who added there would be no permanent damage.

Meler, 37, is one of Turkey’s top referees and officiates international games for Fifa. He is also on Uefa’s elite referee list and officiated West Ham’s Europa Conference League semi-final first leg against AZ Alkmaar last season and took charge of Lazio’s Champions League group game with Celtic last month.

According to Turkish news agencies, Meler said: “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.”

Koca, 59, was twice elected to Turkey’s parliament as part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party.

He was earlier quoted by news agencies in Turkey as saying he does not accept responsibility, adding: “This incident developed due to the wrong decisions and provocative behaviour of the referee. My aim was to react verbally to the referee and spit in his face.”

President Erdogan spoke to Meler in hospital and said the incident had “saddened and disturbed” him.

He had earlier said: “Sports means peace and brotherhood. Sport is incompatible with violence. We will never allow violence to take place in Turkish sports.”

MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca throws a punch at referee Halil Umut Meler after the Turkish Super Lig game with Caykur Rizespor
Referee Halil Umut Meler falls to the ground after Faruk Koca, president of MKE Ankaragucu throws a punch
Referee Halil Umut Meler's face swells after Faruk Koca, President of MKE Ankaragucu throws a punch to him following the Turkish Super Lig week 15 football match between MKE Ankaragucu and Rizespor at Eryaman Stadium in Ankara

What has been the reaction?

Ankaragucu expressed regret following their president’s actions, saying in a statement: “We are saddened by the incident.

“We apologise to the Turkish football public and the entire sports community for the sad incident that occurred after the Caykur Rizespor match at Eryaman Stadium.”

Caykur Rizespor sent a message of support to Meler and said: “We strongly condemn the undesirable events that occurred after the Ankaragucu match.

“We convey our wishes to the entire referee community, especially the referee of the match, Halil Umut Meler, to get well soon.”

In a news conference on Monday night, Turkish FA [TFF] chairman Mehmet Buyukeksi said: “The matches in all leagues have been postponed indefinitely.

“This attack is a night of shame for Turkish football.”

Buyukeksi also visited Meler in hospital on Tuesday and said that Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin had been in contact and told him: ‘We are with you, we are ready to do whatever it takes’.”

Turkey is set to co-host Euro 2032 with Italy but Buyukeksi said the incident had not jeopardised hosting rights, adding: “There is no negativity. 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.”

He also said the federation’s board of directors would meet on Wednesday and they will “give detailed information about the decisions we will make about how the league will continue.”

He added: “This sad event should definitely not be forgotten. This should be a milestone.”

Uefa chief Refereeing Officer Roberto Rosetti say European football’s governing body “strongly condemns” the incident, adding: “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.

The Association of Active Football Referees and Observers of Turkey called on all referees not to take the pitch until changes are made, adding: “The violent attack on Meler was not only against our referee Halil Umut Meler but also against the entire referee community.”

The Turkish Super Lig Professional Football Clubs’ Foundation condemned the attack and said clubs were “ready to take all steps to prevent violent incidents”.

Howard Webb, Chief Refereeing Officer of the English refereeing body PGMOL, said: “PGMOL stand in solidarity with our refereeing colleagues in Turkey and in particular Halil Umut Meler. We wish Halil a full and speedy recovery.

“There is no game without match officials. Like all participants, they need to be valued and respected for the good of the game.”

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