The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) has recently suspended all leagues over a physical assault at a Super League Match.
The incident occurred at the recent match between home team MKE Ankaragücü and Çaykur Rizespor. Right when the game ended, the home team’s president Faruk Koca ran onto the pitch and punched referee Halil Umut Meler over a 97th-minute equalizer concession, resulting in a 1-1 draw. Chaos ensued, and Meler was then kicked repeatedly by several others as he lay on the ground. He has been hospitalized with multiple injuries, including a small facial fracture. Faruk Koca and two other assailants were arrested after 6 people were hastily detained.
TFF chairman Mehmet Büyükekşi announced the suspension of the Turkish Super League until further notice in a press conference Monday night.
Büküyekşi visited Meler in the hospital on Tuesday and relayed the support of UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) president Aleksander Ceferin: “We are with you, we are ready to do whatever it takes.”
Büyükekşi also eased worries regarding Turkey’s co-hosting rights to Euro 2032 alongside Italy, stating that the incident has not jeopardized their position.
Referee Halil Umut Meler Expected to be Discharged
Chief Physician Dr. Mehmet Yörübulut of Acıbadem Hospital made a statement on Tuesday, proclaiming that Meler had not suffered from brain or any other internal damage, and was likely to be discharged by Wednesday.
Meler is one of Turkey's top referees and has served in three Champions League matches this season, including Lazio’s group game with Celtic on November 28.
Faruk Koca Resigns from Club Presidency
President Faruk Koca had also been hospitalized subsequently due to his “heart problems,” as he revealed. It was confirmed on Tuesday that Koca was receiving treatment under the supervision of security forces. He has since been incarcerated. As a twice-elected former parliament member of AKP, the leading political party in Türkiye, Faruk Koca was referred to the high disciplinary board on Monday with a precautionary request for definitive expulsion from his party. AKP spokesman Ömer Çelik declared that the assault was unilaterally deemed a disciplinary offense.
Koca has also resigned from his position as the club president, as announced by his lawyer. He apologized to “Mr. Meler and his family, the Turkish referee community, the sports public, and the nation." Koca had won the “Fair Play Director Award” in October 2022.
Erdogan Condemns the Assault–Ankaragücü Apologizes
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has shown support for the assaulted referee on X, as well as on a phone call with Meler. Erdogan said: “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.”
Ankaragücü Sports Club released a public apology on X: "We apologize to the Turkish football public and the entire sports community for the sad incident that occurred after the Caykur Rizespor match at Eryaman Stadium,"
TFF Chairman Mehmet Büyükekşi said: "Turkish football has been punched shamefully tonight. Everyone involved in this incident will pay the price." TFF itself also condemned the “vile,” “inhumane and despicable” attack.
The Association of Active Football Referees and Observers of Turkey called on all referees to not take the pitch as a strike in a statement titled “A Dark Night for Our Football.”
The Turkish Football Clubs' Foundation also condemned the attack and expressed that the clubs were "ready to take all steps to prevent violent incidents".
Fifa president Gianni Infantino said the incident was "totally unacceptable" and violence had "no place in the sport or society".
Koca Shifts Blame at His Trial
Despite his resignation, Koca did not admit fault during his defense against possible charges for the violation of “Prevention of Violence and Disorder in Sports" and "injuring public officials due to the performance of their public duty" in the investigation launched by Ankara West Chief Public Prosecutor's Office. Koca asserted that the incident “occurred due to the referee's false decisions and provocative behavior" and said that Meler “threw himself on the ground.”
Meler has refuted the allegation as written by the DHA news outlet: "Faruk Koca said to me and my referee friends, 'I will end you [all]'. Addressing me, he said, 'I will kill you'. I have filed a complaint against Koca and other individuals. I do not wish to settle."
Meler Refuses to See the Ankaragücü Committee
Halil Umut Meler refused to see the MKE Ankaragücü Committee comprised of Vice President Zeynep Karamancı and board members Mehmet Şahin and Erkan Aytekin, as reported by the sports club.
It is yet unclear as to when the League will be resumed; however, The Minister of Sports and Youth Osman Aşkın Bak assumed that the pause won’t be for long.
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WION Web Team. “Inhumane and Despicable: Turkish Club President Punches Referee in the Face - Watch.” WION, WION, 11 Dec. 2023, www.wionews.com/sports/watch-turkish-club-president-punches-referee-in-the-face-668712. Accessed 13 Dec. 2023.
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Walker-Roberts, James. “Turkish Leagues Suspended after Referee Halil Umut Meler Punched by MKE Ankaragucu Club President Faruk Koca - Eurosport.” Eurosport, Eurosport, 12 Dec. 2023, www.eurosport.com/football/turkish-leagues-suspended-after-referee-halil-umut-meler-punched-by-mke-ankaragucu-club-president-fa_sto9917920/story.shtml. Accessed 13 Dec. 2023.