ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish soccer league matches, suspended after a referee was attacked by the president of a top-flight club, will resume on Dec. 19, the head of the Turkish Football Federation said Wednesday.
Mehmet Buyukeksi also told reporters that the federation's disciplinary board would announce on Thursday the punitive measures to be imposed on MKE Ankaragucu and its president, Faruk Koca, who has since been arrested. Leading FIFA official and former top referee Pierluigi Collina has described the attack as an example of the "cancer" that threatens to kill soccer.
Koca punched referee Halil Umut Meler in the face on the field after the final whistle of a 1-1 draw in a Super Lig home game against Caykur Rizespor on Monday. The referee, who fell to the ground, was also kicked in a melee as fans invaded the playing surface after Rizespor scored a last-minute equalizer.
The attack led to the suspension of all league games in Turkey, which has been selected to co-host the 2032 European Championship with Italy.
“All league games will restart on Tuesday, Dec. 19,” Buyukeksi announced after a federation meeting, adding that “zero tolerance” would be shown toward attacks on referees.
“What happened during the Ankaragucu-Rizespor match is completely unacceptable,” he said. “We will not allow attacks or disproportionate pressure on our referees, who are an important part of the game.”
Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc announced on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that the government was considering tightening laws designed to prevent violence in sports.
“We will re-evaluate the penal provisions (of the law for the) Prevention of Violence and Disorder in Sports, in terms of (increasing) deterrence,” Tunc wrote. “We will all work together to turn the green (soccer) fields into areas for friendship and brotherhood.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Meler was discharged from hospital after being treated for a fracture near his eye.
He walked out of Ankara’s Acibadem Hospital and raised his hand to salute the assembled media before entering a vehicle. The state-run Anadolu Agency said Meler would travel to his home in Izmir, western Turkey, escorted by police for protection.
The hospital’s chief physician Mehmet Yorubulut told reporters that the referee’s morale was high.
“He has no problems other than the swelling in his eye,” Yorubulut said, adding that the fracture would heal in time.
Buyukeksi dismissed reports that Meler was considering quitting, saying the referee was expected to officiate at the 2024 European Championship in Germany.
“Halil Umut Meler is a highly respected referee by both UEFA and FIFA,” Buyukeksi said. “We expect him to take part in Euro 2024.”
Koca and two other people have been placed under pre-trial detention, facing charges of causing injury to a public official.
Koca is reported to have told prosecutors during questioning that he merely slapped Meler, accusing the referee of “wrongful decisions” and provocative actions.
He later announced his resignation.
“I apologize to the Turkish referee and sports community, to the Turkish people and especially to Mr. Meler and his family for the attitude I displayed toward Halil Umut Meler,” he said in a statement read by his lawyer late Tuesday.
Media reports cited Meler as telling prosecutors that the club president shouted “I will kill you” during the attack and also threatened to “finish off” all the match officials on the field.
Violence in soccer is commonplace in Turkey despite efforts to clamp down on it, although direct attacks on top-level referees are rare.
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