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Attacks on referees could kill football, says top FIFA official Pierluigi Collina

MANCHESTER (AP) – The attack on a top Turkish referee this week was an example of the “cancer” that threatens to kill football, leading FIFA official Pierluigi Collina said on Wednesday.

Halil Umut Meler was hospitalised after being attacked by MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca at the end of a match on Monday. He was also kicked by fans who invaded the field.

“It’s a responsibility for all those who love the ‘beautiful game’ to take action and do something. Before it’s too late, before this cancer will kill football,” said Collina, chairman of FIFA’s Referees Committee.

Meler sustained a slight fracture near his eye and was discharged from hospital on Wednesday.

Koca punched the referee after the final whistle of a 1-1 draw in a Super Lig game against Caykur Rizespor. Meler fell to the ground and was also kicked in a melee when fans invaded the pitch after Rizespor scored a last-minute equaliser.

Referee Halil Umut Meler holds his face as he lies on the ground after being punched by MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca. PHOTO: AP

Koca and two other people have been placed under pre-trial detention, facing charges of causing injury to a public official.

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

“But 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 across the world, without being reported by media.”

Collina, a former top referee, said even more serious incidents of violence towards officials were happening around the world.

“A referee cannot be beaten because of a decision they took, even if it’s wrong,” he said. “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.”

Koca is reported to have told prosecutors during questioning that he slapped Meler.

He later announced his resignation.

“I apologise to the Turkish referee and sports community, to the Turkish people and especially to Mr Meler and his family for the attitude I displayed toward Halil Umut Meler,” he said in a statement read by his lawyer late on Tuesday.