Turkish Football Federation suspends all league matches indefinitely following violent attack on referee

ANKARA, TURKIYE - DECEMBER 11: Referee Halil Umut Meler falls to the ground after Faruk Koca, President of MKE Ankaragucu throws a punch to him after the Turkish Super Lig week 15 soccer match between MKE Ankaragucu and Rizespor at Eryaman Stadium in Ankara, Turkiye on December 11, 2023. The match ended 1-1. (Photo by Emin Sansar/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Referee Halil Umut Meler falls to the ground after being punched by Faruk Koca.Emin Sansar/Anadolu/Getty ImagesCNN — 

The Turkish Football Federation has indefinitely postponed matches in all of the country’s leagues following the violent attack on a referee after a Süper Lig match between Ankaragücü and Rizespor on Monday night.

Following the 1-1 draw at Eryaman Stadium in Ankara, which saw the home team concede an equalizing goal in the 97th minute, the president of the Turkish top-flight club Ankaragücü, Faruk Koca, ran onto the field and punched referee Halil Umut Meler in the face.

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Meler dropped to the ground immediately after the blow and was kicked by at least two individuals while on the ground. The FIFA-licensed referee was eventually brought to his feet with the help of several players and security personnel before eventually being led away from the field.

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Several photos and videos show Meler with a swollen left eye and a bag of ice as he walked off the field, surrounded by security with riot shields. According to public broadcaster TRT, he was transported to the hospital by ambulance.

“We strongly condemn the inhumane and despicable attack on Halil Umut Meler, the referee of the match with a FIFA license, by self-aware criminals after the Trendyol Süper Lig match,” the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) said in a statement.

“We are closely following Halil Umut Meler’s health condition and wish a speedy recovery to our valuable referee.”

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The federation then announced that the board of directors had agreed to indefinitely postpone matches in all leagues, while also adding that criminal proceedings have been initiated against those responsible for the “inhumane attack.”

“The responsible club, the Club President, its managers and all the criminals who attacked Halil Umut Meler will be punished in the most severe way,” the federation said.

CNN Sport has reached out to FIFA for comment.

Meanwhile, Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya confirmed in a post on X, previously known as Twittter, that Koca was being treated at the hospital under the supervision of security forces.

Yerlikaya also said that detention procedures would be carried out for Koca following his treatment, adding that two other individuals had already been arrested.

According to CNN Türk, Koca told Beyaz TV that he “blacked out” and doesn’t remember his actions.

ANKARA, TURKIYE - DECEMBER 11: 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, Turkiye on December 11, 2023. The match ended 1-1. (Photo by Emin Sansar/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Meler had a swollen eye after being punched.Emin Sansar/Anadolu/Getty Images

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

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan condemned that attack in a statement posted on X Monday.

“I condemn the attack on referee Halil Umut Meler after the MKE Ankaragücü-Çaykur Rizespor match played this evening, and I wish him a quick recovery,” Erdogan said. “Sports means peace and brotherhood. Sport is incompatible with violence. We will never allow violence to take place in Turkish sports.”

Ankaragücü, the club whose president initiated the attack, apologized for the incident.

“As MKE Ankaragücü Sports Club, we are saddened by the incident that took place this evening,” the club said.

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

Rizespor sent well wishes to Meler, saying: “We strongly condemn the undesirable events that occurred after the Ankaragücü match we played today. We convey our wishes to the entire referee community, especially the referee of the match, Halil Umut Meler, to get well soon.”

Meler, 37, has been a FIFA-licensed referee since 2017. According to Acıbadem Ankara Hospital Chief Physician Dr. Mehmet Yörübulut, Meler was treated for a small fracture and bleeding around his left eye and will stay at the hospital overnight as a precaution due to the head trauma suffered.

“We are happy that it is not life-threatening,” Yörübulut said.

Galatasaray, one of the top clubs in the country that’s currently competing in the UEFA Champions League, said they were “indescribably saddened” by the events and called for a review into what has become a growing issue in the country.

“Tonight is the time to review and think about what https://bersiaplah.com/ Turkish football has done for all its stakeholders. No matter what has happened in the past, we must all come together today and act to solve the problems we are a part of,” Galatasaray said.

“We would like to remind the entire football community that; No victory or championship won is more valuable than the slightest pain experienced,” the team explained.

Ankaragücü is 11th in the Turkey Süper Lig standings with 18 points and sits three places below Rizespor, which has claimed 22 points this season.

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