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Turkish football club president arrested for punching referee on the field

22:36, Tuesday, 12 December, 2023
Turkish football club president arrested for punching referee on the field

The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) has suspended all leagues and a court has ordered the arrest of Ankaragucu’s president Faruk Koca after he punched the referee in the face at the end of his team’s Super Lig home match against Rizespor.

The court on Tuesday also remanded in custody two other suspects over the incident at Ankaragucu’s home match against Rizespor on Monday evening, at which referee Halil Umut Meler was also later kicked while lying on the pitch.

The TFF said it had suspended all leagues after the “shameful” incident in Ankara.

Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc said Koca and two others were formally arrested for “injuring a public official” after prosecutors took their statements.

“The investigation is continuing meticulously,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter, adding that three other suspects were also subject to judicial monitoring.

Koca entered the field and hit Meler when the final whistle blew after Rizespor scored a 97th-minute equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Eryaman Stadium, footage from state broadcaster TRT showed.

Ankaragucu fans invaded the pitch after the game and Meler was also kicked when he fell, though it was unclear who his assailants were. Meler eventually made it to the dressing room with the help of the police.

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

“This incident developed due to the wrong decisions and provocative behaviour of the referee. My aim was to react verbally to the referee and spit in his face,” Koca told the court, according to Demiroren News Agency.

“At this time, I slapped the referee in the face. The slap I gave would not cause a fracture. After my slap, the referee threw himself on the ground. They immediately removed me from the scene because I have a heart condition,” Koca was quoted as saying.‘Despicable attack’
     According to Turkish media, both Meler and Koca were subsequently taken to hospital.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted in Turkish media condemning the attack as the TFF swiftly announced the suspension.

“By the decision of the TFF Board of Directors, matches in all leagues have been postponed indefinitely.”

The TFF blamed the “despicable attack” on a years-long toxic culture towards referees that it said had been fostered by many players and club officials.

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.

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

A FIFA referee since 2017, 37-year-old Meler took charge of Lazio’s Champions League group game with Celtic on November 28.

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

Ankaragucu are 11th in the standings on 18 points, three places below Rizespor on 22 points after 15 matches.It is unclear when Super Lig matches will resume.

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