Domestic football in Turkey has been suspended indefinitely after one of the country’s top referees was punched to the ground by a club president following a Super Lig match on Monday.
Halil Umut Meler was approached on the pitch and hit by MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca, sparking chaotic scenes as players and officials joined the melee or tried to intervene.
Meler had sent off one player from each side, then allowed an equaliser for opponents Caykur Rizespor in the seventh minute of injury time to force a 1-1 draw.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was quoted in Turkish media condemning the attack, and the Turkish Football Federation swiftly announced the suspension.
In a statement, it blamed the “despicable attack” on a years-long toxic culture towards referees that it said had been fostered by many players and club officials.
“The irresponsible statements of club presidents, managers, coaches and TV commentators targeting referees have paved the way for this vile attack today,” said the TFF.
“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. The responsible club, its president, its managers and all criminals who attacked Meler will be punished in the most severe way.
“By the decision of the TFF Board of Directors, matches in all leagues have been postponed indefinitely.”
According to Turkish media, both Meler and Koca were subsequently taken to hospital, with Koca under guard and expected to be detained following treatment.
The 37-year-old Meler is on UEFA’s elite list and has previously officiated in the UEFA Europa League. He also took charge of West Ham’s Conference League semi-final first leg against AZ Alkmaar last season.
President Erdogan said in a statement: “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 attack by their president issuing a statement which read: “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.”
Caykur Rizespor responded by condemning the attack and wishing Meler a speedy recovery. A statement on their website read: “We strongly condemn the undesirable events that occurred after the Ankaragücü match we played today. We wish the entire referee community, especially the referee of the match, Halil Umut Meler, to get well soon.”