ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish authorities on Tuesday arrested the president of a top-flight soccer club after he punched a referee in the face at the end of a match, prompting the Turkish Football Federation to suspend all league games.
MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca attacked referee Halil Umut Meler on the pitch late Monday after the final whistle of a 1-1 draw in a Super Lig game against Caykur Rizespor.
The referee, who fell to the ground, was also kicked in a melee that occurred when fans also invaded the pitch after Rizespor scored a last-minute equalizer.
The federation suspended all league games indefinitely after an emergency meeting held to discuss the violence.
Meler was hospitalized with a slight fracture near his eye but was not in serious condition. He was expected to be discharged on Wednesday.
Koca, who was considered to be at risk of a heart attack, was also hospitalized overnight. He was ordered arrested pending trial on charges of injuring a public official after questioning by prosecutors, Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc announced on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
Two suspects accused of kicking Meler were also arrested while three others were released on condition they report regularly to police.
During his questioning, Koca denied causing any injury, insisting that he merely slapped the referee, according to HaberTurk television. The club president also blamed the incident on Meler, whom he accused of “wrongful decisions” and provocative acts, the station reported, citing unnamed judicial officials.
Soon after his arrest, Koca resigned as Ankaragucu president, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
“This attack is unfortunate and shameful in the name of football,” federation president Mehmet Buyukeksi said after the emergency meeting.
“We say enough is enough,” he added, insisting that all involved in the violence would be punished.
Buyukeksi also blamed the attack on a culture of contempt toward referees in Turkey.
“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.”
Speaking to reporters after visiting Meler in hospital, Buyukeksi said he hoped the incident would become a “milestone” for change in Turkey, which has been selected to co-host the 2032 European Championship with Italy.
Buyukeksi said the violence would not affect the league championship, adding that he had received a telephone call from UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin who voiced support.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also condemned the attack while his ruling party initiated procedures for Koca — a former member of parliament — to be expelled from the political party.
“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.
Violence in soccer is commonplace in Turkey and some other European countries despite efforts to crack down on it, although direct attacks on top-level referees are rare.
On Monday, Greece announced that all top-flight soccer matches would be played without fans in the stadiums for the next two months following a sport-related riot last week that left a police officer with life-threatening injuries.
Earlier this month, France’s sports minister called for “a global and extraordinarily determined response” to violence in soccer after the death of a fan. Amelie Oudea-Castera said the measures could include routine bans on fans traveling to away matches that present a risk of violence.
The season in France has been plagued by homophobic and racist chanting in the stands. A team bus was pelted with stones, and a game was called off because of crowd trouble.
In another recent incident, four British police officers were injured after heavy clashes with Polish hooligans from Legia Warsaw before a Europa Conference League game against Aston Villa on Nov. 30. Nearly 50 Polish fans were arrested after violence erupted outside the stadium.
Angela Charlton and Jerome Pugmire in Paris contributed.
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer