ISTANBUL - Turkey's football disciplinary board has slapped an 11-match ban on Fenerbahce midfielder Raul Meireles for allegedly spitting at the referee and insulting him during a weekend derby against archrival Galatasaray.
Meireles faces a record suspension of 12 games in total, including a one-match ban for being sent off. The board announced the additional 11-game ban against the Portugal international and former Chelsea player late Thursday, and Meireles was also fined 20,000 Turkish Lira (some US$ 11,250).
The 29-year-old player, who joined Fenerbahce in September after one season with Chelsea, has denied spitting at referee Halis Ozkahya or making a homophobic hand gesture at him, after being sent off during the Dec. 16 game which Galatasaray won 2-1 at home.
"I have been turned into a defendant and punished for something I did not do," the SPORX sports website quoted Meireles as saying. "The referee claimed in his report that I spat at him and that I did a gesture signifying homosexuality. None of this is true. I never spat at his face. I believe spitting at someone's face is a more disgusting insult than physical violence."
"I did a gesture that signifies cowardice. I thought it was a global gesture. I would never make a hand gesture at a gay person because I know that such a person is acting with great courage. I know homosexuals are courageous people because I have gay friends," Meireles was quoted as saying.
Fenerbahce issued a terse statement Friday denouncing the suspension as a punishment meted out "not against Meireles but the whole Fenerbahce community" and said it would appeal the decision.
Aksam newspaper and others said the disciplinary board suspended Meireles for eight games for spitting and for a further three games for the alleged hand gesture.
Earlier in the season, Galatasaray player Engin Baytar was also given an 11-match ban for pushing referee Cuneyt Cakir.