Turkish club president threatened to kill referee before ‘vile’ attack

The president of a top-flight Turkish club allegedly threatened to kill a referee during a savage attack which has resulted in the suspension of all domestic football in Turkey.

Faruk Koca, the president of MKE Ankaragucu, is alleged to have told referee Halil Umut Meler that he would “kill” and “finish” him as he punched the 37-year-old to the ground.

Meler was then kicked in the body and head by other aggressors as a melee erupted on the pitch following the 1-1 draw between MKE Ankaragucu and Caykur Rizespor on Monday.

Meler, who is one of Turkey’s leading referees, is reported by news agency Anadolu to have said: “Faruk Koca punched me under my left eye; I fell to the ground. While I was on the ground, other people kicked me in the face and other parts of my body many times.

“Koca said to me and my colleagues, ‘I will finish you’. Addressing me, he said, ‘I will kill you’.”

Koca was arrested on Tuesday as Turkey reeled from the shocking scenes of violence at the end of the Super Lig match.

According to the Demiroren News Agency, Koca has said: “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.”

Koca later announced his resignation as president via the Ankaragucu website.

Meler was filmed speaking to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan from his hospital bed, while wearing a neck brace.

In his call to the hospital, Erdogan was told by doctors that Meler has suffered a “small fracture” and that the bleeding on his left eye has begun to shrink.

Erdogan told Meler: “We are truly very sad. May God give you health. It saddened me in a serious way to see such a thing. Furthermore, I was also saddened as someone who is from Rize, because it seriously disturbed us that such a thing happened during a Rize game.”

The attack on Meler came after he had sent off one player from each side, then allowed an equaliser for Caykur Rizespor in the seventh minute of injury time.

“This attack is a night of shame for Turkish football,” said Mehmet Buyukeksi, the president of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF), as he announced that games in all leagues had been suspended.

“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.”

In a statement, 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.”

Meler is one of the top referees in Turkey and has a place on Uefa’s elite list. He has overseen three Champions League matches this season and was also the referee for West Ham United’s Europa Conference League semi-final first leg against AZ Alkmaar last season.

In a statement, Erdogan said: “I condemn the attack on referee Halil Umut Meler after the MKE Ankaragucu-Caykur Rizespor match played this evening, and I wish him a speedy recovery.

“Sports means peace and brotherhood. Sports are incompatible with violence. We will never allow violence to take place in Turkish sports.”

MKE Ankaragucu apologised for the actions of their president, saying: “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.”

Football will run out of referees if it does not tackle abuse

Football is running out of time to tackle referee abuse, according to Europe’s leading expert, who has warned of a future with fewer matches if the crisis is not tackled.

Dr Tom Webb, who has extensively studied referee abuse across the UK and Europe, says that unacceptable behaviour has become normalised and incidents like the shocking physical attack of a Turkish referee are even more prevalent at a grassroots level.

Calling now for the “strongest possible sanctions” by Fifa, Uefa and the Turkish FA, Webb said: “Football as a sport needs to take a stand. The situation in refereeing cannot continue as it is. Uefa have recognised a chronic shortage of referees across the continent of Europe.

“If negative behaviour is not tackled then the recruitment and retention crisis in football refereeing will continue, fewer fixtures will be played, fewer people will be playing competitive sport and the talent development pathway for referees into the professional game, where they might encounter systems such as Var, will become even more difficult.

“We are at a crossroads. The game is running out of time. We cannot normalise any further the abuse of referees in football, and that is why the action from the authorities has to be swift to send a message to all participants in football that this behaviour cannot be tolerated.”

Webb, who is an associate professor at Coventry University, has previously uncovered stark differences between grassroots football behaviour in England compared to Holland and France.

Just 2.2 per cent of Dutch referees said that they experienced verbal abuse in every game or couple of games. This figure was 14.4 per cent in France but rocketed to 60 per cent when English officials were asked the exact same question in 2015.

Referees in Holland and France are also far more likely to have never received any verbal abuse (respectively 44.8 per cent and 30.3 per cent) against just six per cent of English officials who reported having never been abused. An experience of physical abuse was also highest in England at 19 per cent, compared to 16 per cent and 14.6 per cent in France and Holland respectively.

“Referees have had to deal with abuse and aggression as part of their day to day officiating experiences for a number of years, and this sort of incident [in Turkey] is far more prevalent in grass-roots football than in the professional game,” said Webb. “However, the fact that it has happened in the professional game should create a level of shock and it has to lead to action. This is exactly the story and coverage we never wanted to see.

“It’s absolutely awful that this has happened and how Turkish football, and the game more widely, reacts to this incident is vitally important. These images could do untold damage to the treatment of referees, not to mention the referee who had to suffer this assault.”