Ankaragücü president Faruk Koca arrested for punching referee after Süper Lig game

Faruk Koca, the president of a top-flight Turkish football club, and two others have been detained following a violent brawl that involved the match referee being punched and kicked in the head at the end of a Süper Lig match between MKE Ankaragücü and Çaykur Rizespor.

The arrests were confirmed by the Justice Minister Yılmaz Tunç in a series of tweets, outlining the laws that had been breached by the accused following the disgraceful scenes at the Eryaman Stadium in Ankara on Monday evening.

The Justice Minister said Koca had been arrested “for the crimes of injuring and threatening a public servant due to his public duty.”

The fiery game, where referee Halil Umut Meler had sent a player off from each team, ended in a 1-1 draw, with the visitors Rizespor scoring a lastminute equaliser in the seventh minute of injury time.

Koca came on to the pitch after the final whistle had been blown. The president of the home side walked up to the referee as he was standing next to another match official and punched him in the head, resulting in Meler falling to the ground.

The incident quickly spiralled into a mass brawl between the two club sides, with fans also descending from the terraces on to the pitch to join in. Players, staff and security raced across to intervene and stop the fighting.

By this time Meler had received further blows to the head, as he was kicked while lying on the grass. Sporting a black eye, the visibly shaken referee was subsequently helped to the changing rooms by the police, before being hospitalised.

On Tuesday, doctors treating Meler said he had cuts and bruises around his eyes and a fractured eye socket, but that his general condition was otherwise stable. Due to the head trauma, doctors had decided to keep Meler in hospital for a further night of observation as a precaution.

“Enough is enough!” Turkish Football Federation suspends domestic football

The Turkish Football Federation (TFF)was quick to take firm action following the violence at Ankaragücü. Within hours of the game ending, TFF President Mehmet Büyükekşi announced that all professional domestic Turkish football matches had been suspended:

“We have postponed games in all leagues indefinitely,” the TFF President told reporters, adding, “This attack is a night of shame for Turkish football. Turkish football does not deserve this, we say enough is enough!”

The TFF president blamed a toxic culture created through “the irresponsible statements of club presidents, managers, coaches and TV commentators targeting referees” which had “paved the way for this vile attack.”

“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 related club, the club chairman, club officials and all those guilty of attacking referee Umut Meler will be punished in the strongest terms possible, Büyükekşi stated.

The incident, which has made headlines worldwide, was roundly condemned by Turkiye’s football fraternity and politicians alike.

Posting on X (formerly Twitter), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, “ Sport means peace and brotherhood. Sport is incompatible with violence. We will never allow violence to take place in Turkish sports.” The Turkish president also called Meler to wish him a speedy recovery.

Özgür Özel, the leader of the main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), also condemned the violence and urged officials to act firmly against those responsible.

Faruk Koca tries to defend his actions

Astonishingly Koca, the 59-year-old former MP for the Justice and Welfare Party (AKP), tried to defend his actions telling the Demiroren News Agency he had only intended to spit in the referee’s face, who he accused of making “wrong decisions” during the game and overreacting afterwards.

“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.

“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.”

Referee Halil Umut Meler is punched in the head by Faruk Koca at the Eryaman Stadium, Ankara, 11 Dec. 2023

On Tuesday, Ankaragücü confirmed that Koca had resigned from his position as club president. That same day, the former Ankaragücü president was also arrested.

Referees & FIFA rally around Halil Umut Meler

Meler, 37, is one of Turkiye’s top referees. The official is on Fifa’s and UEFA’s international elite referee lists, and officiated the Lazio v Celtic game last month.

Speaking on Tuesday, Meler’s Turkish refereeing colleague Arda Kardeşler said: “Everyone saw what happened last night.

“Our Federation and MHK [Central Referee Board] stated that they will support us in every decision we make after the incident and postponement of the league.

“Our only priority right now is Halil Umut Meler’s health and reunion with his family. We stand by Halil Umut Meler.”

Fifa President Gianni Infantino also condemned the attack, saying “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.”