Violence and a deadly stampede that erupted following a domestic league soccer match Saturday night marked another tragedy in Indonesian football. Here’s a look at how the chaos occurred and what is being done to prevent future incidents.
___ HOW DID THE CHAOS OCCUR? Chaos broke out after Persebaya Surabaya defeated rival Arema Malang 3-2 in Saturday night’s match in East Java’s province Malang city. Police said there were some 42,000 spectators in the stadium, all of whom were Arema’s supporters because the organiser had banned Persebaya fans in an effort to avoid brawls. But a disappointing loss by Arema – the first match lost to rival Persebaya at its home stadium – prompted angry spectators to pour into the field after the match to demand answers. Fans threw bottles and other objects at players and soccer officials and rioting spread outside the stadium, where at least five police cars were toppled and set ablaze and others damaged. Riot police responded with tear gas, which is banned at soccer stadiums by FIFA. But it sparked panic. Hundreds of spectators rushed to an exit gate to avoid the tear gas, resulting in a stampede that trampled or suffocated 34 to death almost instantly, with many more deaths to follow due to injuries.
___ HOW MANY PEOPLE DIED? In what appeared to be one of the worst sports disasters, police said at least 174 people died, including children and two police officers, most of whom were trampled. More than 100 people were injured. Police said the death toll is likely to rise more with multiple people in critical condition.
Data from an Indonesian football watchdog organization, Save Our Soccer, said that at least 86 Indonesian soccer supporters died since 1995 related to supporting their club during the match. Most of them died because of the fights between fans. The riots and stampede Saturday will be added to the long list of events where fans died supporting their soccer club.
___ WHY DOES SOCCER BEGET VIOLENCE? Football is the most popular sport in Indonesia and the domestic league is widely followed. Fans are strongly attached to their clubs, and such fanaticism often ends in violence and hooliganism. But the riots between the supporters usually happens outside the stadium.
The most well-know feud is between Persija Jakarta and Persib Bandung. Supporters of the two clubs have clashed in several matches that led to deaths. In 2018, a Persija Jakarta supporter was beaten to death by Persib Bandung rivals. Indonesian football has also been beset with trouble on the international stage. Brawls broke out between supporters of archrivals Indonesia and Malaysia in 2019 during qualifying matches for this year’s FIFA World Cup. In September that year, Malaysian fans were threatened and pelted with projectiles at a World Cup qualifier in Jakarta, and Malaysia’s visiting sports minister had to be evacuated from the stadium after violence broke out. Two months later, fans hurled flares and bottles at each other in another match in Kuala Lumpur. Also in 2019, after losing in the finals of the U-22 match to Vietnam in the Southeast Asian Games, Indonesian fans took to social media to insult, harass, and send death threats to Vietnamese players and even their families. In June, two Persib Bandung fans died while jostling to enter the stadium in Bandung to watch the 2022 President’s Cup. The angry supporters became aggressive because the officers on the field did not allow them to enter the already-full stadium.
___ WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT DOING ABOUT IT? Indonesian President Joko Widodo has expressed his deepest regret and ordered a thorough investigation into the case. He has also ordered the premier soccer league be suspended until a reevaluation on match safety is carried out and tighter security put in place. Widodo said he hoped “this tragedy will be the last tragedy of football in Indonesia.” Indonesia’s soccer association has also banned Arema from hosting soccer matches for the remainder of the season. Rights group Amnesty International urged Indonesia to investigate the use of tear gas at the stadium and ensure that those found in violations are tried in open court.