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Turkish fans welcome resumption of football leagues after assault on referee

Istanbul: Turkish football fans welcomed the resumption of matches in all tiers of Turkey’s football leagues on Tuesday, after a week-long suspension imposed following a club president’s on-field attack on a referee in an unprecedented display of violence.

Last week, the president of top-flight club Ankaragucu, Faruk Koca, went on to the pitch and punched referee Halil Umit Meler in the face after his team conceded a 97th-minute equaliser.

The referee was then kicked while laying on the pitch, prompting the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) to impose a permanent ban on Koca, who was arrested the day after the match.

As matches resumed on Tuesday, kids wearing shirts that read “respect” presented flowers to the referees during the pre-match ceremony ahead of the Basaksehir-Sivasspor game, footage showed.

“As a lover of football, I am not against the decision they took (to suspend league games). If I were a referee, I would not attend any matches until the end of the league,” said Basaksehir fan Talha Aydin, 25.

Birol Yolcu, another Basaksehir fan, said he agreed with the decision to suspend the matches, but that he welcomed that they had now resumed.

“I am thankful that at least our referees made the right decision and decided to continue (attending the games). This is a very radical decision,” Yolcu, 36, said.

“We are talking about a referee (Meler), who is accredited by FIFA. This is a very important criteria. Therefore, I think this (the decision to suspend the games) was correct,” he said.

Referees in Turkey are often criticised by club managers and presidents for their rulings, especially due to discontent with the video assistant referee (VAR) system, but they have rarely been the target of violent attacks.

The shocking attack has thrust the entire culture of Turkish football into the spotlight, with the escalating issues of political influence and disrespect for officials at the heart of the debate.

(Published 19 December 2023, 17:23 IST)

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