One of the worst tragedies in football history happened in Indonesia. On Saturday, October 1, 174 people were killed in a football stadium on the sidelines of a match in the east Java island city of Malang after a mass movement and law enforcement intervention. However, the exact circumstances are still unclear. Here’s what we know about it.
A very heavy toll
The tragedy happened at Kanjuruhan Stadium in the city of Malang, home of the Arema FC club. The local club received their neighbor – and rival – Persebaya Surabaya, against whom they had not lost for more than twenty years. The defeat against Arema FC (3:2) was hard to ignore for the 42,000 fans. About 3,000 of them took to the lawn to show their anger. A sadly unsurprising scene in a country used to fan violence.
A land invasion followed by a mass movement that claimed the lives of 174 people, including at least one child. This drama commemorates sad times including the incident at Hillsborough Stadium in the UK in 1989 which left 97 Liverpool fans dead. Or more recently that of Port Said Stadium in Egypt with 74 deaths in 2012. The sad record in this area dates back to 1964 in Peru with 320 deaths following a mass movement. Unfortunately, this Indonesian tragedy and its magnitude are therefore historic.
tear gas and panic
Police, who described the disaster as a “riot,” tried to persuade fans to return to the stands and fired tear gas after two officers were killed. Many victims were then trampled to death. Survivors described panicked onlookers being held down by crowds as police fired tear gas. Footage captured at the stadium shows a huge amount of tear gas and people clinging to the barriers, trying to escape.
#urgently The football tragedy in Indonesia is the “second deadliest stadium disaster” with at least 129 dead (after Peru in 1964). president @jokowi orders an investigation into football protocol and security. Questions about police use of tear gas to break up fights The stadium may have been congested. pic.twitter.com/bHbEyzW83T
— Will Ripley (@willripleyCNN) October 2, 2022
Others carried injured passers-by and made their way through the chaos. “Police threw tear gas and people immediately rushed out and pushed each other and that caused many casualties,” Doni, a 43-year-old viewer, told AFP. He didn’t want to give his last name, nothing, no riots. I don’t know what happened, they suddenly threw tear gas,” he said. Explained. “What shocked me is that they didn’t think about women and children?”
Government apologies and ongoing investigation
Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered “a full assessment of football matches and security procedures” on Sunday following the tragedy. He urged the National Football Association to suspend all games until “safety improvements” are made. “I deeply regret this tragedy and I hope this football-related tragedy will be the last in our country,” he said in a televised address.
“We are sorry for this incident (…) It is a regrettable incident that damages our football at a time when fans can attend a game in a stadium,” said Indonesian Sport after a long hiatus during the Covid-19 pandemic – and Youth Department Minister Zainudin Amali told Kompas TV. 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 apologize to the families of the victims and everyone involved in this incident,” said PSSI President Mochamad Iriawan.
Indonesia is used to deadly rivalries
A harrowing spectacle in front of the stadium on Sunday morning testified to the unrest of the day before: charred vehicles, including a police truck, were on the streets. The police reported 13 burned vehicles. Fan violence is a problem in Indonesia, where longstanding rivalries have 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.
For this meeting, fans of Persebaya Surabaya were not allowed to buy tickets for the game for fear of incidents. The Secretary General of the National Football Association PSSI, Yunus Yussi, said he had communicated with FIFA about this dramatic incident and hoped to avoid sanctions from the international organization. He explained that the police used tear gas inside the stadium because “they had to take action to prevent” fans from entering the pitch. Not enough to reassure FIFA while Indonesia host next year’s U20 World Cup.
A minute’s silence will be held in Spain’s stadiums ahead of Sunday’s games to commemorate the victims of the disaster. In a statement, FIFA President Gianni Infantino regretted this “unimaginable tragedy”.