Turkish football suspended after club president punches referee to ground after final whistle

Turkish football suspended after club president punches referee to ground after final whistle
Halil Umut Meler was struck after he blew the final whistle soon after a 97th-minute equaliser. / A Spor TV, screenshot
By bne IntelliNews December 12, 2023

A Turkish Super Lig football night match descended into chaos on December 11 when the match referee was punched in the head by Faruk Koca, president of the home team, MKE Akaragucu. He then appeared to receive several blows, including a kick to the face, from others as lay on the ground.

When the final whistle blew, Koca ran on to the pitch and struck the referee, Halil Umut Meler. The visiting team, Caykur Rizespor, had scored a 97th-minute equaliser. Meler had red-carded one player from each side before the Rizespor leveller.

Following the dramatic scenes at the end of the 1-1 draw at Eryaman Stadium, as reported by the BBC, Turkish Football Association (TFF) chairman Mehmet Buyukeksi told a news conference."The matches in all leagues have been postponed indefinitely. This attack is a night of shame for Turkish football."

Local media reported that both Meler and Koca were taken to hospital, with Koca under guard and expected to be detained following treatment for a suspected fracture. 

Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former semi-professional footballer and prominent football fan, was quoted in Turkish media as condemning the attack. “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,” said Erdogan.

“Sports means peace and brotherhood. Sports are incompatible with violence. We will never allow violence to take place in Turkish sports.”

The 37-year-old Meler is on Uefa’s elite list. He has previously officiated in the Champions League.

TFF chairman Buyukeksi also said: "Football matches are not a war, there is no death at the end. Not all teams can become champions at the same time. We all need to understand this. We invite everyone to take responsibility.

"[Ankaragucu] and its managers will be punished most severely."

He said the penalties would be discussed in decision-making committees starting on December 12.

In a statement on what it described as the "inhumane and despicable attack", the TFF said: "The irresponsible statements of club presidents, managers, coaches and TV commentators targeting referees have paved the way for this vile attack today.

"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."

Rizespor expressed support for the referee in a statement, saying: “We strongly condemn the undesirable events that occurred after the Ankaragucu match we played today. We wish for the referee of the match, Halil Umut Meler, to get well soon.”

“We are saddened by the incident that took place this evening,” said a club statement from Ankaragucu. “We apologise to the Turkish football public and the entire sporting community for the sad incident that occurred after the match.”