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Turkish league suspended after club president punches referee in face after Super Lig game

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 Turkish Football Federation (TFF) has launched an indefinite suspension of the league after Ankaragucu’s president, Faruk Koca punched a referee in the face at the end of their Super Lig home match against Rizespor.

Ankaragucu played out a 1-1 draw with Caykur Rizespor at the Eryaman Stadium in the Turkish capital of Ankara, with the visitors scoring a 97th-minute equaliser to rescue a point.

After the full-time whistle had blown, Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca stormed onto the pitch and punched official Halil Umut Meler in the face, leaving him with a profound lump below his eye.

Ankaragucu supporters also invaded the pitch after the match and Meler was kicked after falling to the ground, but it remains unclear at this stage who the alleged attackers were.

Thirty-seven-year-old Meler, who has officiated several Champions League games in recent seasons, was taken to hospital to receive treatment, while justice minister Yilmaz Tunc has confirmed that Koca and two other suspects have been formally arrested by police for “injuring a public official”.

In an interview with state-owned Anadolu news agency, Meler said Koca also threatened him and his colleagues.

“Faruk Koca punched me under my left eye; I fell to the ground. While I was on the ground, other people kicked me in the face and other parts of my body many times,” he said.

“Koca said to me and my colleagues, ‘I will finish you’. Addressing me, he said, ‘I will kill you’.”

Footage later provided by the Turkish government showed Meler lying in a hospital bed with a swollen face and a neck brace.

“The bleeding in Meler’s left eye started to decrease” and there will be no permanent damage, said Mehmet Yorubulut, chief doctor of Acibadem hospital.

“The fracture there will gradually heal. There is no brain damage,” he added.

The Turkish Football Federation did not say when the season will resume but said “all those guilty of attacking referee Umut Meler will be punished in the strongest terms possible.”

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.

A FIFA referee since 2017, 37-year-old Meler took charge of Lazio‘s Champions League group game with Celtic on Nov. 28.

Referees in Turkey are often criticised by club managers and presidents for their decisions, but are rarely the target of violent attacks.

Ankaragucu are 11th in the standings on 18 points, three places below Rizespor on 22 points after 15 matches.

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