All Turkish leagues were suspended after a club president attacked the referee during a top-tier match on Monday.
As Halil Umut Meler stormed onto the field after his team’s 1-1 Super Lig draw with Caykur Rizespor, MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca struck him, allowing an equalizer in the 97th minute.
“The matches in all leagues have been postponed indefinitely,” Turkish FA [TFF] chairman Mehmet Buyukeksi told a news conference.
“This attack is a night of shame for Turkish football,” he added.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino called the incident “totally unacceptable” and said that violence has “no place in our sport or society”.
“Without match officials there is no football,” he said. “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.”
Meler was lying on the turf when he took multiple strikes from other people, which resulted in small fractures.
Players and club officials were involved in tumultuous scenes following the incident. Koca needed hospital care, but according to Turkey’s interior minister, Ali Yerlikaya, “detention procedures will be carried out after the treatment.”
Further arrests have been made for their involvement in the incident, which Yerlikaya “strongly condemned.”
Meler, a 37-year-old Turkish referee, works for FIFA officiating international matches. He is included in the elite referee list of FIFA.
He also required hospital treatment and the chief physician of the hospital where he was treated, Dr Mehmet Yorubulut, said: “There is no life threat for the moment. He only has bleeding around his left eye and a small fracture.
“We will [monitor] our referee until the morning due to head trauma. We will discharge him from hospital after the necessary examinations in the morning.”
‘Inhumane and despicable attack’
The country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, spoke out after the shocking scenes. “I condemn the attack on referee Halil Umut Meler after the MKE Ankaragucu-Çaykur Rizespor match played this evening, and I wish him a speedy recovery,” he said.
“Sports means peace and brotherhood. Sport is incompatible with violence. We will never allow violence to take place in Turkish sports.”
Home club MKE Ankaragucu expressed regret following their president’s actions, saying in a statement: “We are saddened by the incident that took place this evening.
“We apologise to the Turkish football public and the entire sports community for the sad incident that occurred after the Caykur Rizespor match at Eryaman Stadium.”
Caykur Rizespor sent a message of support to Meler and expressed general dismay, stating: “We strongly condemn the undesirable events that occurred after the Ankaragucu 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.”
The TFF chose to take a decisive course of action that it hopes will lead Turkish football to become a safer place.
TFF chairman Buyukeksi added: “Football matches are not a war, there is no death at the end. Not all teams can become champions at the same time. We all need to understand this. We invite everyone to take responsibility.
“[Ankaragucu] and its managers will be punished most severely.”
He said the penalties will be discussed in the relevant decision-making committees starting on Tuesday.
In a statement on what it called the “inhumane and despicable attack”, the TFF said: “The irresponsible statements of club presidents, managers, coaches and TV commentators targeting referees have paved the way for this vile attack today.
“In coordination with our State, all the criminal proceedings they deserve have begun to be implemented against those responsible and instigators of this inhumane attack. The responsible club, its president, its managers and all criminals who attacked Meler will be punished in the most severe way.”
Galatasaray, one of the country’s biggest teams, had earlier called for an emergency meeting to allow clubs to address what they say is a growing issue in the Turkish game.
“We must all come together today and act to solve the problems we are a part of,” read a Galatasaray statement.
The Association of Active Football Referees and Observers of Turkey called on all referees not to take the fields, adding: “The violent attack on Meler was not only against our referee Halil Umut Meler but also against the entire referee community.”
The Turkish Super Lig Professional Football Clubs Foundation condemned the attack and said clubs were “ready to take all steps to prevent violent incidents”.
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