Pierluigi Collina says that attacks on referees are a ‘cancer’ after Turkish Süper Lig incident

ANKARA, TURKIYE - DECEMBER 11: Faruk Koca, President of MKE Ankaragucu throws a punch to the referee Halil Umut Meler after the Turkish Super Lig week 15 soccer match between MKE Ankaragucu and Rizespor at Eryaman Stadium in Ankara, Turkiye on December 11, 2023. The match ended 1-1. (Photo by Emin Sansar/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Halil Umut Meler is punched after the Turkish Süper Lig match between Ankaragücü and Rizespor in Ankara.Emin Sansar/Anadolu/Getty ImagesCNN — 

FIFA official Pierluigi Collina has reiterated his view that physical and verbal abuse against referees is a “cancer that may cost football its life” following an attack on Turkish referee Halil Umut Meler.

On Monday, Meler was punched in the face by Faruk Koca, the then-president of top-flight Turkish club Ankaragücü. Meler said that he fell to the ground and was kicked by two others, according to a statement published by Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu.

Koca later resigned from his position, saying that he wanted to avoid further harm to the club, its fans, the community and his family.

“Neither the referee, nor the man, deserved to live the experience [Meler] lived in Ankara,” Collina, chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee, said in a statement.

“He was doing his job when he was assaulted on the field of play at the end of a match he just officiated.

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“The image of Halil Umut lying on the ground, with his hands protecting his head while he was kicked by his assaulters, as well the image of the bruise under his eye, are horrific.”

Turkish referee Halil Umut Meler, accompanied by head doctor Mehmet Yorubulut, leaves from a hospital in Ankara, Turkey December 13, 2023. REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan

Meler leaves a hospital in Ankara on Wednesday.Cagla Gurdogan/Reuters

Meler also claimed that Koca had threatened to kill him following the match between Ankaragücü and Rizespor.

Several photos and videos show Meler with a swollen left eye and a bag of ice as he walked off the field, surrounded by security with riot shields. According to public broadcaster TRT, he was transported to the hospital by ambulance.

Yılmaz Tunç, the Turkish Minister of Justice, said on X, formerly Twitter, that the three individuals who attacked the referee have been “arrested for the crime of, ‘injuring, on a sports field in a way that resulted in a fracture, [of] a public official who was performing their public duty.’”

Koca is among the three people arrested, according to Tunç. Koca, however, has refuted the claims, saying that he “slapped” Meler in the face due to “the referee’s wrong decisions and provocative behavior” and that he didn’t cause any fracture.

Meler was released from hospital in Ankara on Wednesday and has “no problems other than the swelling in his eye,” Mehmet Yörübulut, the chief doctor of Acıbadem Ankara Hospital, told reporters.

The Turkish Football Federation had indefinitely postponed matches in all of the country’s leagues following the attack but announced on Wednesday that games will resume on December 19.

Turkey's Minister of Youth and Sports Osman Askin Bak visits soccer referee Halil Umut Meler who was punched in the face at the end of yesterday's Super Lig match between Ankaragucu and Rizespor, at a hospital in Ankara, Turkey, December 12, 2023. Sports Ministry/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

Meler wore a neck brace as a precaution while in hospital.Sports Ministry/Reuters

“Speaking to media after the IFAB Annual Business Meeting in London just last month, on November 28, I said that violence, verbal and physical abuse against referees is a ‘cancer’ that may cost football its life,” Collina said.

“A referee cannot be beaten because of a decision they took, even if it’s wrong. His or her car cannot be bombed or set on fire because of a penalty kick. Unfortunately, this is not an exaggeration, as car bombs and cars being set on fire is something that has happened in some countries, and not so rarely.”

Collina, a former international referee who said that he knows Meler personally, added that Monday’s attack was not an isolated incident.

“Even more horrific is to know that there are thousands of referees around the world who are verbally and physically abused at lower levels of the game … without being reported by media. They are unknown. And the vast majority of them are young referees early in their careers.”

According to a report by the BBC and the Referees’ https://horeoraduwe.com Association in England released earlier this year, 293 of the 927 referees who responded to a questionnaire said that they had been physically abused by spectators, players, coaches or managers.

Nearly all of the respondents (908) said that they had experienced some form of verbal abuse while refereeing.

CNN’s Thomas Schlachter, Isil Sariyuce, Hande Atay Alam and Homero De la Fuente contributed to reporting.

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