Winning the right to host next year’s Under-20 World Cup was a major milestone in Indonesia’s soccer development, raising hopes that a successful tournament will reverse long-standing problems that have blighted the sport in this country of 277 million people.
The death of at least 125 people in a league match between hosts Arema FC of the East Javanese city of Malang and Persebaya Surabaya on Saturday is a tragic reminder, however, that Indonesia is one of the most dangerous countries in which to watch a match .
“Remember that the FIFA U-20 World Cup will be on the global stage as 24 countries from five continents will participate,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said last month as he pushed for thorough preparations for the tournament.
As of Saturday, the domestic league has been suspended. Widodo ordered the sports minister, the national police chief and the soccer federation to conduct a thorough investigation into the deadly stadium crash.
Indonesia was the first Asian team to ever play in a World Cup – participating in 1938 as the Dutch East Indies – but despite an undeniable national passion for the sport, it never returned to the world stage due to corruption, violence and mismanagement.
Figures from Indonesia’s soccer body, Save Our Soccer, showed 78 people had died in match-related incidents over the past 28 years.
Defendants are often associated with club-affiliated supporters’ groups, the largest having hundreds of thousands of members.
Arema’s intense rivalry with Surabaya meant that no away fans were allowed in the stadium at the weekend. However, violence broke out after the home team lost 3-2 and some of Arema’s 42,000 fans, known as “Aremania”, threw bottles and other objects at football players and officials.
Restrictions on away fans have also failed in the past. In 2016, despite Persib Bandung supporters being banned from a game against fierce rivals Persija Jakarta, they were blamed for the death of a Jakarta fan.
A month earlier, a Persib fan had been beaten to death by Jakarta fans.
In 2018, local media reported the seventh death in six years related to Indonesia’s biggest football rivalry.
Soccer fans have accused security officials of being callous in the past and over the weekend, with witnesses describing police hitting them with sticks and shields before firing tear gas directly into the crowds. In 2016, police were accused of killing 16-year-old supporter Muhammad Fahreza in a match between Persija and Persela Lamongan, leading to mass protests demanding an end to police brutality.
“The police in charge of security violated FIFA’s stadium security regulations,” soccer analyst Akmal Marhali told Indonesian media on Sunday, referring to the use of tear gas on Malang fans who entered the pitch after their team’s defeat. . This sparked a rush for exits in an overcrowded stadium.
“The Indonesian Football Association may have been negligent for not informing the police that security procedures at a football match are not the same as those at a demonstration.”
FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, advises against the use of tear gas in stadiums.
The football association, known locally as PSSI, has long struggled to manage the game domestically.
In 2007, Nurdin Halid was jailed on corruption charges but was able to continue as president of the organization until 2011. After Halid was banned from running for another term, a rival league, federation and national team emerged.
However, the chaotic administration continued until FIFA suspended Indonesia in 2015, a sanction that was lifted the following year.
In 2019, when FIFA awarded Indonesia the hosting rights for the Under-20 World Cup, it was seen as a vote of confidence.
In June, a FIFA committee inspected the country’s football facilities and planning for the tournament from May 20 to June 11 and expressed its satisfaction.
“We are very happy to see the preparations in Indonesia,” said Roberto Grassi, Head of FIFA Youth Tournaments. “A lot of renovation work has already been done. We had an encouraging visit and we are confident of the support from all parties involved.”
Kanjuruhan Stadium, the site of Saturday’s disaster, is not among the six venues listed for the U20 World Cup, although the nearby Surabaya Stadium is scheduled to host matches.
FIFA has yet to comment on any impact on the U20 World Cup, but the weekend tragedy is likely to damage Indonesia’s bid to host the 2023 Asian Cup. It is competing with South Korea and Qatar to host the continental championship after China gave up its rights in May.
Indonesia has previously co-hosted the tournament, sharing the 2007 event with Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam and hosting the final in Jakarta, where Iraq beat Saudi Arabia for the title.
This was the last time Indonesia hosted a major international soccer tournament. The Asian Football Confederation is expected to announce its decision for the 2023 tournament on October 17.
It is unlikely that any football will be played before then as people in Indonesia and as football fans around the worldcome to terms with one of the deadliest disasters ever to happen at a sporting event.
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