Turkey’s football plunged into all-out crisis Tuesday following an on the pitch attack on a referee by a club president who was mentioned as a possible candidate for mayor of Ankara. The top-flight SuperLig indefinitely suspended matches and a court placed Ankaragucu club president Faruk Koca and two others in pre-trial detention for “injuring and threatening a public official”. Images of Monday night’s incident showed Koca rushing onto the pitch with a group of men and throwing a punch at referee Halil Umut Meler after he had blown the final whistle.
Koca appeared to be incensed at Meler for awarding a stoppage-time penalty kick that allowed visiting Caykur Rizespor to leave the capital with a 1-1 draw.
Meler fell to the ground and was kicked several times in the ensuing melee.
The 37-year-old match official was shown standing minutes later with a black eye that had swelled up the left part of his face.
He released a statement after being rushed to hospital saying Koca had threatened his life.
“Faruk Koca punched me under my left eye and I fell to the ground. While I was on the ground, they kicked my face and other parts of my body many times,” Meler said in a statement.
“Faruk Koca told me and my fellow referees: ‘I will finish you’. Addressing me in particular, he said: ‘I will kill you’.”
‘My brain went crazy’
Koca admitted to Beyaz TV immediately after the match that he had momentarily lost control.
“My brain went crazy,” Koca said.
“My eyesight blacked out! I don’t remember what I did!”
The incident pushed all other events off the front pages of the main newspapers in a nation where football passions run deep — and are often politically linked.
The Turkish Football Federation condemned “this vile attack” and suspended all matches until further notice.
It also prompted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — a one-time football player whose love for the game has helped improve the fortunes of top Turkish clubs — to issue a late-night appeal for calm.
“Sports means peace and brotherhood. Sport is incompatible with violence,” he said in a social media statement.
The Turkish interior ministry later released a video showing Erdogan placing a call to Meler in his hospital bed.
“We are so deeply sorry and we wish you a speedy recovery,” Erdogan told the injured referee in the clip.
“I told all our friends, my interior minister, my justice minister and all the other relevant friends to do what is necessary,” Erdogan said.
Turkish football is known for its passion and occasional bursts of violence.
A Turkish court briefly arrested 19 people involved in a brawl that broke out during a second-division match in November of last year.
Second-division Bursaspor played seven matches earlier this year in an empty stadium following another incident during which fans chanted anti-Kurdish slogans.
Turkish clubs are followed by legions of fans who often align themselves with various social causes and become a part of the country’s political life.
Football supporters played an integral part in 2013 youth-driven protests that formed the first serious challenge to Erdogan’s socially conservative government.
The Ankara club and its president are linked closely to Erdogan’s ruling AKP party.
Koca told one reporter this year that he could consider running for mayor as the AKP candidate in a closely-watched municipal election scheduled for March 31.
“If I am entrusted with the task of being the metropolitan municipality mayor, I will do what is necessary,” Koca said.
Both Ankara and Istanbul are headed by popular opposition politicians who came to power in 2019.
Ankaragucu are in 11th place in the SuperLig after Monday’s draw.
Rizespor are four points above them in eighth place.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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