Indonesia: At least 125 dead after mass movement at soccer stadium

AFP, published Sunday 02 October 2022 at 16:49

Indonesia was hit by one of the worst stadium tragedies of all time on Sunday: at least 125 people died in a mass movement when thousands of fans stormed a football pitch and were tear gassed by police.

The tragedy, which took place in the city of Malang east of the island of Java on Saturday night, also left 323 injured in this Southeast Asian archipelago, where rivalries between supporters often end in disaster, according to a recent report.

The incident began when fans of local team Arema FC took to the pitch at Kanjuruhan Stadium in the city of Malang after their team lost 3-2 to neighboring Persebaya Surabaya.

Police, who described the incident as a “riot,” attempted to persuade fans to return to the stands and fired tear gas at the crowd after two officers were killed, leading to scrums and uncontrolled protests. Many victims were trampled on.

The vice governor of the province of East Java, Emil Dardak, announced on Sunday evening a downward revision of the balance sheet, which goes from 174 to 125 deaths due to double counting.

“The death toll today is 125. 124 have been identified and one has not. Some names were registered twice,” the official told Metro TV.

– large amounts of tear gas –

Survivors described panicked bystanders being pinned down by crowds as police fired tear gas canisters.

Footage captured inside the stadium shows a massive amount of gas and people clinging to the barriers, trying to escape. Others carried injured passers-by and made their way through the chaos.

“The police threw tear gas and people immediately rushed out, pushing each other and that caused many casualties,” Doni, a 43-year-old viewer, told AFP. He did not want to give his last name.

“There was nothing, no riots. I don’t know what happened, they suddenly threw tear gas,” he said.

Amnesty International is calling for an investigation into “the use of tear gas” by police and for those who “offended” to be brought to justice.

In Jakarta, around 300 football fans, including “Ultras”, gathered for a wake in front of the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, the largest in Indonesia. Some shouted “murderers” and set off firecrackers in protest.

In an interview with AFP, Sam Gilang, a survivor who lost three friends, spoke of a “terrifying, absolutely shocking” incident.

“People pushed each other (…) and many were trampled on the way to the exit. My eyes burned from tear gas. Luckily I managed to climb a fence and I survived.”

Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered “a comprehensive assessment of football matches and security procedures” on Sunday. He urged the National Football Association to suspend all games until “safety improvements” are made.

The stadium held 42,000 people and was full, according to the authorities. About 3,000 of them rushed onto the field after the game.

– the world of football in shock –

Charred vehicles, including a police truck, littered the streets outside the stadium on Sunday, showing the public’s anger after the tragedy.

The Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) made its mea culpa and received many reactions from the shocked football world.

This catastrophe is “an unimaginable tragedy,” said the President of the International Football Association (FIFA), Gianni Infantino.

Clubs Manchester United Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain defender Sergio Ramos sent their condolences online, along with Italy’s Serie A and the German Football Association.

In Spain, there is a minute’s silence in the stadiums before the league games on Sunday.

The secretary-general of the National Football Association PSSI, Yunus Yussi, said he had communicated with FIFA about this dramatic incident, hoping to avoid sanctions from the international body.

In its recommendations, FIFA prohibits the use of tear gas to control crowds on the pitch.

During his Sunday Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said he prayed “for those who lost their lives and were injured in the clashes.”

Fan violence is a long-standing problem in Indonesia, where club rivalries have often resulted in deadly clashes.

Some matches – the most important being the Persija Jakarta-Persib Bandung derby – are so tense that players from top teams have to go there under heavy protection.

Persebaya Surabaya fans were not allowed to buy tickets for Saturday’s game for fear of incidents.

Indonesia is set to host next year’s U-20 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 mass movement at Lima’s National Stadium during a qualifying match between Peru and Argentina killed 320 and injured more than a thousand.