Turkish football league suspended after Ankaragucu president punches referee

Faruk Koca attacked referee Halil Umut Meler after final whistle following Rizespor's late equaliser on Monday

Referee Halil Umut Meler lies on the ground after being attacked by Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca and Ankaragucu supporters at the end the Turkish Super Lig match against Rizespor. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) has suspended all leagues following a night of "shame" after Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca punched a referee in the face at the end of their Super Lig home match against Rizespor.

Koca walked on to the pitch and hit referee Halil Umut Meler after the final whistle blew after Rizespor scored a 97th minute equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Eryaman Stadium on Monday.

Meler, a Fifa referee since 2017, was also attacked by Ankaragucu fans who invaded the pitch after the game, though it was unclear who his assailants were. Images show Meler with a black eye from the attacks. He eventually made it to the dressing room with the help of the police.

"The Turkish Football Federation has decided to suspend all games in all leagues indefinitely," the federation posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"The related club, the club chairman, club officials and all those guilty of attacking referee Umut Meler will be punished in the strongest terms possible."

Meler, 37, required hospital treatment and the chief physician of the hospital where he was treated, Dr Mehmet Yorubulut, said: "There is no life threat for the moment. He only has bleeding around his left eye and a small fracture.

"We will [monitor] our referee until the morning due to head trauma. We will discharge him from hospital after the necessary examinations in the morning."

Turkey's Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said a detention order has been issued for Koca, adding that two people have already been detained as part of a judicial investigation into the incident.

"Turkish football has been punched shamefully tonight. Everyone involved in this incident will pay the price," TFF chairman Mehmet Buyukeksi said, according to broadcaster TRT.

Businessman Koca, 64, is also a Turkish politician and founding member of the Free Trade, Justice and Development Party. He served as a deputy of the Grand National Assembly between 2002 and 2011. Born and raised in Ankara, he represented the Ankara constituency twice in parliament.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted: "I condemn the attack on referee Halil Umut Meler after the MKE Ankaragucu-Çaykur Rizespor match played this evening, and I wish him a speedy recovery.

"Sport means peace and brotherhood. Sport is incompatible with violence. We will never allow violence to take place in Turkish sports."

Referees in Turkey are often criticised by club managers and presidents for their decisions but are rarely the target of violent attacks.

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.”

Ankaragucu are 11th in the standings on 18 points, three places below Rizespor on 22 points after 15 matches.

Updated: December 12, 2023, 7:56 AM