Supporters carry an injured person during confrontations between fans at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, Indonesia October 1, 2022. YUDHA PRABOWO/AP
Indonesia woke up on Sunday October 2nd to be struck by one of the worst tragedies to ever hit a stadium. At least 125 people died in a mass movement when thousands of fans rushed onto a soccer field and were tear-gassed, according to a recent report by local authorities.
The number of fatalities rose from 127 to 174, said Emil Dardak, the vice governor of the province of East Java, on the television station Kompas TV at noon. It was revised down early Sunday afternoon.
This disaster is “an unimaginable tragedy,” said the President of the International Football Association (FIFA), Gianni Infantino, in a press release on Sunday.
The tragedy, which happened on Saturday night in the city of Malang, east of the island of Java, also left more than a hundred injured in this Southeast Asian archipelago, where rivalries between supporters often have serious consequences.
Around 3,000 fans of the Arema FC team took to the field at Kanjuruhan Stadium in the city of Malang after their team lost 3-2 to Persebaya Surabaya. It was the first time in more than twenty years that Arema FC lost to its great rival.
Police, who described the incident as a “riot,” tried to convince fans to return to the stands and fired tear gas canisters after two officers were killed. Many people were fatally trampled. Survivors described panicked onlookers blocked by crowds.
Fans storm the field at Kanjuruhan Stadium, Malang, East Java, Indonesia October 1, 2022. YUDHA PRABOWO / AP
The President of the Republic of Indonesia Joko Widodo on Sunday ordered an investigation into the safety of football matches in the country. The sports and youth minister, the national police and the head of the Indonesian National Football Association must “carry out a comprehensive assessment of football matches and security procedures,” the head of state of Southeast Asia said in a televised address. “I deeply regret this football-related tragedy and hope it will be the last in our country,” he said.
Footage taken inside the stadium shows a huge amount of tear gas and people clinging to the barriers trying to escape. Others carried injured passers-by and made their way through the chaos. Charred vehicles, including a police truck, lay on the roads near the stadium on Sunday morning. The police reported 13 burned vehicles.
Indonesian police fire tear gas at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, Indonesia, October 1, 2022. YUDHA PRABOWO / AP
A hospital director told local television that one of the victims was only 5 years old. The stadium, which seats 42,449 spectators, was full, according to the authorities.
The government apologizes
The Indonesian government apologized for this tragedy and promised to investigate the circumstances of this mass movement. “We apologize for this unfortunate incident (…) that harms our football at a time when fans can watch a game in a stadium,” Indonesian Minister of Sport and Youth Zainudin Amali told Kompas broadcaster.
“We will thoroughly examine the organization of the game and the number of fans [dans le stade]. Will we ban fans from attending games again? We will discuss it,” he added.
Mea culpa also on the part of the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI), which has suspended all games scheduled for this week. “We are sorry and we apologize to the families of the victims and all parties involved in this incident,” said PSSI President Mochamad Iriawan. She banned Arema FC from hosting home games for the remainder of the season and said she will send an investigative team to Malang to determine the cause of the events.
Fan violence is a problem in Indonesia, where longstanding rivalries have resulted in deadly clashes. The context of some matches – the most important being the Old Indonesia Derby between Persija Jakarta and Persib Bandung – is so tense that players from top teams have to go there under strict protection.
Indonesia is set to host next year’s U20 World Cup in multiple stadiums across the country, but Malang is not one of them.
In 1989, a mob killed 97 Liverpool fans at Hillsborough Stadium in the UK, and in 2012 Egypt’s Port Said Stadium suffered another tragedy that left 74 dead. In 1964, a crowd at the National Stadium in Lima during a qualifying match between Peru and Argentina killed 320 and injured more than a thousand.
Also read: Article reserved for our Football subscribers: “The Hillsborough tragedy, 95 dead, April 15, 1989, brought back memories of police disorganization”