Panic and a chaotic run for the exits after police fired tear gas at a soccer match in Indonesia to disperse angry fans left at least 174 dead, most of them trampled or drowned, making it one of the world’s deadliest sporting events.
Attention immediately focused on the use of tear gas by police, which is banned in football stadiums by FIFA. The president of FIFA called the deaths on the pitch “a black day for everyone involved in football and a tragedy beyond all comprehension”, while President Joko Widodo ordered an investigation into security procedures.
Violence broke out after the match ended on Saturday night with hosts Arema FC of the East Javanese city of Malang losing to Persebaya of Surabaya 3-2.
Frustrated by their team’s defeat, thousands of Arema supporters, known as “Aremania”, reacted by throwing bottles and other objects at football players and officials. Witnesses said fans flooded the Kanjuruhan Stadium pitch and demanded Arema’s management to explain why, after 23 years of unbeaten home games against rivals Persebaya, it ended in defeat.
Violence spread outside the stadium where at least five police vehicles were overturned and set on fire. The police responded by firing tear gas, including towards the stands of the stadium, causing panic in the crowd.
Some choked and others were trampled as hundreds of people ran for the exit to avoid the tear gas. In the chaos, 34 died at the stadium, including two officers, and some reports include children among the victims.
“We have already taken a precautionary action before finally firing the tear gas as (the fans) started attacking the police, acting unruly and burning vehicles,” East Java police chief Niko Afinda told a news conference early Sunday.
More than 300 were rushed to hospitals, but many died en route and during treatment, Afida said.
East Java Vice Governor Emil Dardak told Kompas TV that the death toll had risen to 174, while more than 100 wounded were receiving intensive treatment in eight hospitals, 11 of them in critical condition.
Indonesia’s soccer association, known as PSSI, has indefinitely suspended the Liga 1 soccer league due to the tragedy and banned Arema from hosting soccer matches for the rest of the season.
Television reports showed police and rescue workers evacuating the injured and carrying the dead to ambulances.
Grieving relatives waited for information about their loved ones at Malang’s Saiful Anwar General Hospital. Others tried to identify the bodies that had been placed in a morgue, while medical examiners placed identification tags on the bodies of the victims.
“I deeply regret this tragedy and hope this is the last football tragedy in this country, don’t let another human tragedy like this happen in the future,” Widodo said in a televised speech. “We must continue to preserve sportsmanship, humanity and the sense of brotherhood of the Indonesian nation.”
He ordered the minister of youth and sports, the national police chief and the chairman of the PSSI to conduct a thorough assessment of the country’s football and its security process.
Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali also expressed regret that “this tragedy happened when we were preparing for football match activities, both nationally and internationally.”
Indonesia is set to host the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup from May 20 to June 11, with 24 teams participating. As the host country, the country automatically qualifies for the cup.
“Unfortunately, this incident has definitely damaged our football image,” said Amalie.
In a statement, FIFA president Gianni Infantino expressed his condolences on behalf of the global football community, saying “the world of football is in a state of shock”. The statement did not mention the use of tear gas.
Ferli Hidayat, Malang’s local police chief, said there were about 42,000 spectators at Saturday’s match, all of whom were Arema supporters because the organizer had banned Persebaya fans from entering the stadium in a bid to avoid brawls.
The restriction was imposed after clashes between fans of the two rival teams at East Java’s Blitar Stadium in February 2020 caused 250 million rupiah ($18,000) in damage. Brawls were reported outside the stadium during and after the East Java Governor’s Cup semi-final, which ended with Persebaya beating Arema 4-2.
Rights groups responded to the tragedy by blaming the use of tear gas at the stadium by police.
Citing FIFA stadium security guidelines that prohibit the carrying or use of “crowd control gas” by referees or police, Amnesty International called on Indonesian authorities to conduct a swift, thorough and independent investigation into the use tear gas at Kanjuruhan Stadium.
“Those found to have committed violations are tried in an open court and do not simply face internal or administrative sanctions,” said Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia.
He said tear gas should only be used to disperse crowds when widespread violence has occurred and other methods have failed. People should be warned that tear gas will be used and allowed to disperse. “No one should lose their life in a football match,” Hamid said.
Despite Indonesia’s lack of international accolades in the sport, hooliganism is rife in the soccer-obsessed country, where fanaticism often results in violence, such as in the 2018 death of a Persija Jakarta fan who was killed by a mob of die-hard opposition fans. Persib Bandung. in 2018.
Saturday’s match is already among the world’s worst crowd disasters, including the 1996 World Cup qualifier between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City, where more than 80 died and more than 100 were injured. In April 2001, more than 40 people were crushed to death during a soccer match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa.