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Attack on ref gives Turkish football another black eye

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Images of Monday night’s incident showed Koca rushing onto the pitch with a group of men and throwing a punch at referee Halil Umut Meler after he had blown the final whistle.

MKE Ankaragucu President Faruk Koca reacts as the referee Halil Umut Meler lies on the ground at the end of their Super Lig home match against Caykur Rizespor. Picture: REUTERS, Abdurrahman Antakyali, Depo Photo

Türkiye’s football was plunged into crisis on Monday after an on-field attack on a referee by a club president, who was mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate for Ankara.

The top-flight Super Lig indefinitely suspended matches and a court placed Ankaragucu club president Faruk Koca and two others in pre-trial detention for “injuring and threatening a public official”.

Images of Monday night’s incident showed Koca rushing onto the pitch with a group of men and throwing a punch at referee Halil Umut Meler after he had blown the final whistle. Koca appeared to be incensed at Meler for awarding a stoppage-time penalty kick that allowed visiting Caykur Rizespor to leave the capital with a 1-1 draw.

Meler fell to the ground and was kicked several times in the ensuing mêlée. The 37-year-old match official was shown standing minutes later with a black eye that had swelled the left side of his face.

He released a statement after being rushed to hospital saying Koca had threatened his life.

“Faruk Koca punched me under my left eye and I fell to the ground. While I was on the ground, they kicked my face and other parts of my body many times,” Meler said in a statement.

“Faruk Koca told me and my fellow referees: ‘I will finish you’. Addressing me in particular, he said: ‘I will kill you’.”

Koca admitted to Beyaz TV immediately after the match that he had momentarily lost control.

“My brain went crazy,” Koca said. “My eyesight blacked out. I don’t remember what I did.”

The incident pushed all other events off the front pages of the main newspapers in a nation where football passions run deep – and are often politically linked. The Turkish Football Federation condemned “this vile attack” and suspended all matches until further notice.

It also prompted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a one-time football player – whose love for the game has helped improve the fortunes of top Turkish clubs – to issue a late-night appeal for calm. “Sports means peace and brotherhood. Sport is incompatible with violence,” he said on social media.

The Turkish interior ministry later released a video showing Erdogan placing a call to Meler in his hospital bed.“We are so deeply sorry and we wish you a speedy recovery,” Erdogan told the injured referee in the clip. “I told all our friends, my interior minister, my justice minister and all the other relevant friends to do what is necessary.”

Turkish football is known for its passion and occasional bursts of violence. A Turkish court briefly arrested 19 people involved in a brawl that broke out during a second division match in November last year.

Second division side Bursaspor played seven matches earlier this year in an empty stadium after another incident during which fans chanted anti-Kurdish slogans. Moreover, Turkish clubs are followed by legions of fans who often align themselves with various social causes and become a part of the country’s political life.

Fifa chief Gianni Infantino, meanwhile, called the attack on Meler “totally unacceptable”.

“There is absolutely no place for violence in football, on or off the field,” Infantino said in a statement on social media.

“Events following the Turkish Super Lig match between MKE Ankaragucu and Caykur Rizespor are totally unacceptable and have no place in our sport or society.

“Without match officials there is no football,” Infantino added.

“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.”

AFP

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