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Turkish soccer club president quits after punching referee

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

The president of top-flight Turkish soccer club Ankaragücü has announced his resignation a day after he punched a FIFA-licensed referee in the face.

“In order to avoid any further harm to the Ankaragücü club, Ankaragücü fans, the community I am in and my family, I would like to announce that I have resigned from the MKE Ankaragücü Presidency,” Faruk Koca said in a club statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Referee Halil Umut Meler claimed that Koca also threatened to kill him following Ankaragücü’s match against Rizespor on Monday night.

Meler says Koca punched him in the face under his left eye. Meler says he then fell to the ground where he was kicked by two others, according to a statement published by Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu.

“Faruk Koca, said to me [and the other officials], ‘I will finish you.’ Addressing me, he said, ‘I will kill you,’” Meler told Anadolu.

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.

Yılmaz Tunç, the Turkish Minister of Justice, said on X that the three individuals who attacked the referee have been “arrested for the crime of, ‘injuring, on a sports field in a way that resulted in a fracture, [of] a public official who was performing their public duty.’”

Koca is among the three people arrested, per Tunç. Koca, however, has refuted the claims, saying he “slapped” Meler in the face.

“This incident developed due to the referee’s wrong decisions and provocative behavior. My aim was to react verbally to the referee and spit in his face. Meanwhile, I slapped the referee in the face. The slap I gave does not cause a fracture,” Koca said, per Anadolu.

“After the slap, the referee was standing about five-10 minutes … He stood for a second. Then [Meler] threw himself on the ground. They immediately removed me from the scene because I had a heart condition. I am not aware of any other incident that took place.”

Mehmet Yörübulut, chief doctor of Acibadem hospital, said in a video posted on X that Meler has a small crack following the punch but there is no brain damage. Yörübulut said that he is hoping Meler will be discharged on Tuesday evening or on Wednesday.

The Turkish Football Federation has indefinitely postponed matches in all of the country’s leagues following the attack.

During the 1-1 draw at Eryaman Stadium in Ankara, Ankaragücü conceded an equalizing goal in the 97th minute, after which Koca ran onto the field and punched Meler in the face.

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.

“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.”

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.

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

When reached by for comment, FIFA pointed to the statement condemning the attack its president, Gianni Infantino, posted on Instagram.

“There is absolutely no place for violence in football, on or off the field,” Infantino wrote on his Instagram Stories, adding that Monday’s events were “totally unacceptable and have no place in our sport or society.

“Without match officials there is no football. 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.”

Meanwhile, Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya confirmed in a post on X 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.

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

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan condemned the 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.

Galatasaray, one of the top clubs in the country which is 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 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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