MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca throws a punch at referee Halil Umut Meler after the Turkish Super Lig game with Caykur Rizespor

An attack on a Turkish referee is symptomatic of a "cancer" affecting the game and "will kill football" unless action is taken, says global referee chief Pierluigi Collina.

The chairman of Fifa's Referees Committee said the attack on Halil Umut Meler was "horrific".

Meler was punched by Ankaragucu club president Faruk Koca after his side's 1-1 draw with Caykur Rizespor.

Koca has been arrested over the incident and has quit his club post.

All league football in Turkey has been suspended following the incident in Super Lig, which is Turkey's top flight.

Collina added: "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.

"They are unknown. And the vast majority of them are young referees early in their careers," the Italian former referee 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.

"It is 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."

Reports of attacks 'every single week'

Turkish officials have promised severe penalties for those involved but the matter has opened up a debate in Turkey about what Koca himself referred to as a "culture of violence" in the sport.

The boss of a referees' charity in England says he receives reports of attacks on referees "every single week of the season" which are "similar or worse" than the one suffered by Meler.

Martin Cassidy, the chief executive of Ref Support UK, believes attitudes towards officials "must change immediately" or an attack on a top-flight referee in the UK will be "just around the corner".

"I receive reports of similar or worse incidents like this every single week of the season," he explained.

"The only difference here, is that there were more cameras capturing this incident and it was live on national TV," he said.

He cited the case of a 14-year-old referee who called him on Monday asking for support and advice "after he abandoned a game due to him receiving threats and abuse from an adult.

"Referees all over the world have, for far too long, been viewed as fair game no matter what age the referee is. Referees are an endangered species due to abuse, threats and assaults," Cassidy said.

"Over the past weekend we received reports of child referees being threatened and verbally abused, games being abandoned due to abuse and violence towards match officials at under-13s game. This is the tip of the iceberg as many referees are not aware of the work we do.

"The desensitisation of ref abuse has been left to fester for far too long and an incident like this, live on TV, is just around the corner in top-flight football in the UK unless we have a huge change in attitude and culture towards match officials at all levels of the game."

The Football Association has been looking at ways to reduce abuse of officials and last week told the BBC that a trial of referees wearing bodycams will be extended across grassroots football next year.

Howard Webb, Chief Refereeing Officer of the English refereeing body PGMOL, said: "There is no game without match officials. Like all participants, they need to be valued and respected for the good of the game."

Scottish former official Hugh Dallas, who is the Turkish Super Lig's head of referee education, has said football cannot keep putting match officials' "lives at risk".

He says action has to be taken "from the top, by governments", and added: "There has to be legislation and punishments put in place for clubs, players, owners or whoever when they behave in such a manner because it definitely can't continue."

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