Punch Cancels All Professional Soccer in Turkey

Faruk Koca, president of Super Lig club MKE Ankaragucu, arrested for assault on referee
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 12, 2023 12:00 PM CST

The Turkish Football Federation has suspended play across its five professional leagues after the president of a top-tier soccer club punched a referee in the face. Chaos erupted Monday as MKE Ankaragucu drew Caykur Rizespor in a Super Lig match in Ankara, with Rizespor evening the score in the seventh minute of extra time. When referee Halil Umut Meler called an end to the match, Ankaragucu President Faruk Koca took to the pitch and punched him in the face, causing Meler to fall to the ground. "Koca punched me under my left eye," the referee reported, per Reuters. "While I was on the ground, other people kicked me in the face and other parts of my body many times," he continued. "Koca said to me and my colleagues, 'I will finish you.' Addressing me, he said, 'I will kill you.'"

Koca, a former member of parliament who represented President Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK Party, was arrested Tuesday alongside two others on a charge of "injuring a public official," per Al Jazeera. Koca accused the referee of "wrong decisions and provocative behavior," per Reuters. He said he'd planned to "react verbally to the referee and spit in his face" but "slapped the referee" instead. He claimed the referee then "threw himself on the ground." Meler, 37, was helped off the pitch by police. Turkey's Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya later shared footage showing the official lying in a hospital with a swollen face and a neck brace. A doctor said he suffered bleeding in his left eye and a small fracture but no permanent damage, per the BBC and Reuters.

"Everyone involved in this incident will pay the price," TFF Chairman Mehmet Buyukeksi said, per Al Jazeera. The organization described it as an "inhumane and despicable attack," per the BBC. FIFA, soccer's international governing body, and UEFA, the governing body of soccer in Europe, likewise condemned the incident. FIFA President Gianni Infantino said the events were "totally unacceptable," per Reuters. UEFA said the "unacceptable and distressing behavior is detrimental to the efforts of national associations to recruit referees, which are essential for the running of the game." Erdogan also spoke out against the incident. Turkey's Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc said the investigation into the incident is ongoing, per Al Jazeera. It's unclear when Turkish matches might resume. (More soccer stories.)

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