The Turkish referee who was punched to the ground and kicked in the head by a team’s president has been seen in hospital for the first time, battered and bruised and wearing a neck brace.
Turkish football descended into chaos – on a night the nation’s media labelled as a ‘night of shame’ – on Monday when MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca launched the vicious attack on referee Halil Umut Meler after his side drew 1-1 against Caykur Rizespor in the Super Lig.
The referee left the pitch last night and said ‘it’s my fault’ as he was escorted away by riot cops, before the country’s Football Federation shut down the entire league.
Now Meler has been pictured in his hospital bed sporting a black eye among other facial injuries, while there are concerns around his neck after multiple people kicked him while he was on the ground.
Reports from the hospital detail how the bleeding in his left eye has started to decrease and the cheek fracture he sustained will ‘gradually heal’. They also said there is no permanent damage following further facial and neurological tests.
Reports added that Meler’s blood pressure increased this morning ‘due to the stress of the incident’.
It is hoped he will be discharged on Wednesday morning.
The stricken referee received a visit from Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday.
Turkey has been totally rocked by the incident, with the league set for a week-long suspension, although that is expected to have no bearing on Galatasaray’s Champions League game away to FC Copenhagen on Tuesday. That game is hugely significant in Manchester United’s group.
Shocking images of the on-pitch sucker-punch showed president Koca’s fist connecting with Meler’s cheek beneath his left eye, sending the official to the ground. Others then laid into him with a series of kicks as he curled up on the grass covering his face.
Fans also invaded the pitch after Rizespor scored an equaliser seven minutes into eight minutes of injury time, prompting police to escort the referee to safety.
Despite being on the receiving end of the attack, Turkish media reported Meler as saying ‘Thank you, it’s my fault’ to the police as he exited.
It was not immediately clear whether Meler was apologising for the large amount of injury time or the sending off of two players. The match featured eight minutes of injury time and a red card for each side, with Rizespor defender Emirhan Topçu sent off in the 95th minute, two minutes before the equalising goal.
It is understood that the referee was left with a cheek fracture, while Koca – who is reported to have heart problems – was hospitalised as a precaution, but would later taken into custody following treatment, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said.
Later, it was reported that Koca – who registered a blood pressure of 190 – had been sent to an Ankara courthouse along with six others involved in the incident. Turkey’s Spor Arena news outlet said Koca and three others were officially arrested.
Meanwhile, the federation announced it suspended all league games indefinitely after an emergency meeting held to discuss the violence.
‘This attack is unfortunate and shameful in the name of football,’ federation chief Mehmet Buyukeksi said after the meeting. ‘We say enough is enough,’ he added, insisting that all involved in the violence would be punished.
The moment that the fist of Faruk Koca, president of top-flight football club, connects with the face of referee Halil Umut Meler after a Turkish Super Lig match on Monday evening
The MKE Ankaragucu president launched the vicious attack (pictured) on referee Meler after his side drew 1-1 against Caykur Rizespor in the Super Lig
Abhorrent scenes started when the president of Ankaragucu punched the referee in the face
The match official was sent crashing to the ground after the punch and sustained a black eye
Meler collapsed to the ground after he was struck by Koca after the conclusion of the 1-1 draw
Koca stormed onto the pitch after his side’s draw against Rizespor and assaulted the official
Meler looked to protect his face after the punch while other individuals kicked him on the floor
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.’
Turkish President Erdogan also condemned the attack.
‘Sports means peace and brotherhood. The sport is incompatible with violence. We will never allow violence to take place in Turkish sports,’ he wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said the events that took place after the match were ‘totally unacceptable and have no place in our sport or society’.
‘Without match officials there is no football,’ he added. ‘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.’
The scenes were captured from multiple angles by photographers and on the live broadcast of the Turkish Super Lig match – the top flight of Turkish football.
The match finished 1-1 after Rizespor netted the last-gasp equaliser against Ankaragucu, who had been poised to win the match with an early opening goal.
However, the goal in the 97th minute of the 98-minute match saw the clash conclude in a draw – moments before the shocking twist of violence.
Ankaragucu are reported to have cheered on the attack as a large crowd of players, coaching staff and security were quick to race to the scene and stop the assault, with the shaken Meler eventually helped to his feet.
Police formed a wall around him so he could escape to safety.
After being led away, he was seen sporting a swollen eye, with Turkish news outlets reporting that as he left the pitch, he said: ‘Thank you, it’s my fault.’
Meler is reported to have since watched the footage back and filed police complaints against everyone involved in the attack. He has also given a statement, according to Turkish media.
They also reported that he had become a father just days ago.
It is not known when matches in the division will resume.
A judicial investigation has been launched ‘against those responsible’ for the unprovoked assault, according to Turkey’s Minister of Justice, Yilmaz Tunc.
Tunc said the Ankara Police Department were tasked with identifying suspects.
Turkey’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Ali Yerlikaya, announced that Koca was being treated in hospital under the supervision of security forces, with detention procedures to follow.
Yerlikaya later added: ‘I strongly condemn the attack on referee Halil Umut Meler at the end of the MKE Ankaragucu-Çaykur Rizespor match.
‘Such incidents are unacceptable on our green fields, which are the ground of peace and friendship. We are following this sad event. I offer my best wishes to our referee Halil Umut Meler, who successfully represents Turkish refereeing abroad.’
A linesman runs in to assist referee Meler after he is punched to the ground by the president
Meler is seen lying on the ground after being punched and kicked
Koca could be seen walking away after the confrontation as others tried to speak to him
A group of players, officials and security guards formed a protective huddle around Meler, who could be seen sporting a swollen eye in the moments shortly after the shocking attack
Meler’s face was seen swollen after the attack on Monday
Ankaragucu, meanwhile, has issued an apology to football fans for what it called the ‘sad incident’ that unfolded after the match.
In a statement on X, formerly Twitter, the club said: ‘As MKE Ankaragucu Sports Club, 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 Çaykur Rizespor match at Eryaman Stadium.’
In its own statement, Rizespor used stronger language, calling for ‘no violence in sports’. The team said: ‘We strongly condemn the undesirable events that occurred after the Ankaragucu 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.’
Olimpiu Morutan opened the scoring in the 14th minute before drama struck, with hosts Ankaragucu reduced to 10 men after Ali Sowe’s second-half dismissal.
Emirhan Topcu was also sent off for Rizespor in the 95th minute, though the visitors netted a last-gasp equaliser through Adolfo Gaich on the cusp of the final whistle.
The attack has been condemned by Minister of Youth and Sports, Osman Askin Bak.
Bak, posting on X, wrote: ‘I strongly condemn the attack on the referee of the match, Halil Umut Meler, at the end of the MKE Ankaragucu-Caykur Rizespor match.
‘We do not want to see these images on our fields, which do not suit the spirit of sports and Turkish football.’
Meler has been a Fifa referee since 2017, the AFP news agency reports. Officials in Turkey are often criticised by club managers and presidents for their decisions – but rarely are they on the receiving end of violence.
Koca, 59, has been the president of Ankaragucu since 2021. He received the Fair Play manager of the month award in October 2022.
Fenerbahce and Turkey international footballer Umut Nayir has reacted to the unsightly scenes on his social media account.
Koca was visibly furious after the match and is set to be detained by police after treatment
The shocking incident was captured and broadcast live as fans tuned in to watch the face-off
Rizespor players leave the field after the incident. The club later posted on X, formerly Twitter
Halil Umut Meler (centre, November 28) is one of Europe’s top referees, and regularly officiates games in the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s premier football competition
Mail Sport has launched a campaign to stop the abuse of referees at all levels of the game
‘A mentality that considers itself to be right no matter what is said or done to the referee has surrounded us,’ he posted on X, formerly Twitter.
‘You destroyed the most vulnerable factor in football with your pressure, day by day, together. You put the burden of your failures on them. Shame on you.
‘I’m ashamed of the situation you’ve put us in.’
Ankaragucu are 11th in the Super Lig on 18 points, three places below Rizespor on 22 points after 15 matches.
A FIFA referee since 2017, 37-year-old Meler took charge of Lazio’s Champions League group game with Celtic on November 28.