Turkey is set to resume its league football on Tuesday, ending a brief suspension in the domestic competition caused by an attack on a referee by a club’s president who was later arrested by local authorities.
Turkish football’s “night of shame” has caused the country’s most popular sport to spiral into a crisis and has raised questions about on-pitch violence towards match officials.
What happened during and after the match?
The Turkish Super Lig match between MKA Ankaragucu and Caykur Rizespor ended in a 1-1 draw on Monday after the visitors equalised in the last minute of added time. After the full-time whistle was blown, Ankaragucu President Faruk Koca rushed onto the pitch with a group of men and knocked out referee Halil Umut Meler with a blow to the left side of his face.
Meler was kicked several times in the ensuing melee, which occurred when fans invaded the pitch. The 37-year-old match official was shown standing minutes later with a black eye that had swelled up the left part of his face.
He eventually made it to the dressing room with the help of the police.
Why was the referee attacked?
Koca appeared to be incensed at Meler for sending off one of his players and then awarding a stoppage-time goal that allowed Rizespor to leave Ankara with a draw.
Meler released a statement on Tuesday 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.
“[He] told me and my fellow referees: ‘I will finish you.’ Addressing me in particular, he said: ‘I will kill you.’”
Meler was released from hospital in Ankara on Wednesday after undergoing observation and receiving a phone call from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Meler, a respected referee with accreditation to officiate international matches, is expected to recover and join the refereeing crew of the Euro 2024 championship, to be held from June to July in Germany.
Who is Faruk Koca?
MKE Ankaragucu’s Koca is a politician, former parliamentarian, aspiring Ankara mayor and member of Erdogan’s AK Party.
“If I am entrusted with the task of being the metropolitan municipality mayor, I will do what is necessary,” Koca said this year. However, the ruling party has initiated procedures to expel Koca.
Since the incident, Koca has resigned as club president – a role he took up in 2021 – but insists that his team was cheated by the referee.
“No matter how great an injustice or how wrong [the officiating] was, nothing can legitimise or explain the violence that I perpetrated,” Koca said in a club statement.
“I apologise to the Turkish refereeing community, the sports public and our nation,” he added.
How have football and government officials reacted?
Turkish Football Federation (TFF) chief Mehmet Buyukeksi said the sport’s governing body will announce penalties for the altercation.
Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc said Koca and two others were formally arrested for “injuring a public official” after prosecutors took statements from them.
“The investigation is continuing meticulously,” he said on the social media platform X.
Turkey’s president was also quick to condemn the incident.
“Sports means peace and brotherhood. The sport is incompatible with violence. We will never allow violence to take place in Turkish sports,” Erdogan wrote on X.
What has FIFA said?
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said the events after the match were “totally unacceptable and have no place in our sport or society”.
“Without match officials, there is no football,” he added.
European football’s governing body, UEFA, also condemned the incident.
“We urge the authorities and the responsible disciplinary bodies to take decisive and necessary action against anyone involved in acts of abuse and violence against referees,” UEFA said.
What’s the status of league football in Turkey?
Matches were suspended indefinitely hours after the incident, but on Wednesday, the TFF said action will resume next week.
Is there a history of violent attacks on referees and match officials?
Violence in football is commonplace in Turkey despite efforts to clamp down on it although direct attacks on top-level referees are rare. Still, Buyukeksi blamed the attack on a culture of contempt towards referees.
“Everyone who has targeted referees and encouraged them to commit crimes is complicit in this despicable attack,” he said.
“The irresponsible statements of club presidents, managers, coaches and television commentators targeting referees have opened the way for this attack.”
Pierluigi Collina, chairman of FIFA’s referees committee, said the incident was horrific.
“Neither the referee nor the man deserved to live the experience he lived yesterday in Ankara. He was doing his job when he was assaulted on the field of play at the end of a match he just officiated,” Collina said on Tuesday.
Hugh Dallas, Turkish Super Lig’s head of referee education, was in the stadium when the incident happened and has called for governments to take action.
Referees in Turkey are often criticised by club managers and presidents for their decisions.
“I think a lot of club presidents, media and others will take a look at themselves today and realise when you whip up that type of mass hysteria regarding refereeing, this is the result,” he told the BBC.
“There has to be legislation and punishments put in place for clubs, players, owners or whoever when they behave in such a manner because it definitely can’t continue