Indonesian soccer match: At least 125 dead after fans stampede to exit

MALANG, Indonesia — Panic and a chaotic scramble for exits after police fired tear gas to disperse fans angry at the loss of their team at an Indonesian soccer game left at least 125 dead, most of whom were trampled or suffocated, resulting in death making it one of the deadliest sporting events anywhere in the world.

Attention was immediately drawn to the police’s use of tear gas, and witnesses reported that police beat them with sticks and shields before firing canisters directly into the crowd.

FIFA’s President called the deaths at the stadium “a dark day for all involved in football and a tragedy beyond imagination” while President Joko Widodo ordered an investigation into security procedures. While FIFA has no control over domestic matches, it has discouraged the use of tear gas in football stadiums.

Violence erupted after the game ended on Saturday night as hosts Arema FC from the city of Malang in East Java lost 3-2 to Persebaya from Surabaya.

Disappointed at the loss of their team, thousands of Arema supporters, known as ‘Aramania’, responded by throwing bottles and other objects at players and football officials. Witnesses said fans flooded the pitch at Kanjuruhan Stadium, urging Arema management to explain why it ended in defeat after 23 years of unbeaten home games against rivals Persebaya.

The violence spread outside the stadium, where at least five police vehicles were overturned and set on fire. Riot police responded by firing tear gas, including into the stadium’s stands, causing panic among the crowd.

Spectator Ahmad Fatoni said police started beating fans with sticks and shields and they fought back.

“The officers fired tear gas directly at the spectators in the stands and forced us to run to the exit,” he said. “Many of the victims fell from tear gas and were trampled on due to shortness of breath and blurred vision.”

He climbed onto the roof of the stands and only came down when the situation had calmed down.

Others were suffocated and trampled as hundreds of people ran to the exit to avoid the tear gas. In the chaos, 34 died at the stadium, including two officers, and some reports include children among the victims.

“We were already taking preventive measures before finally firing the tear gas when (fans) started attacking the police, acting anarchically and burning vehicles,” East Java Police Chief Nico Afinta said in a news conference on Tuesday early Sunday.

More than 300 were taken to hospitals, but many died en route and while being treated, Afinta said.

National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo said the death toll had been revised from 174 to 125 after authorities found some of the victims had been double-counted. More than 100 received intensive care in eight hospitals, eleven of them in critical condition.

“The stadium turned into a smoky battlefield when the police fired tear gas,” said Rizky, who came with his cousin to watch the game.

“I felt hot and stinging in my eyes, I couldn’t see clearly while my head was dizzy and everything went dark…I passed out,” he said. When he woke up, he was already in the emergency room. He said his cousin died from head injuries.

“We wanted to entertain ourselves by watching a football game, but we experienced disaster,” he said.

The Indonesian Football Association, known as PSSI, has suspended the first football division Liga 1 indefinitely in light of the tragedy and banned Arema from hosting football matches for the remainder of the season.

TV reports showed police and rescue workers evacuating the injured and carrying the dead to ambulances.

Mourning relatives awaited information about their loved ones at Malang’s Saiful Anwar General Hospital. Others attempted to identify the bodies lying in a morgue while medical personnel affixed identification tags to the victims’ bodies.

“I deeply regret this tragedy and hope this will be the last football tragedy in this country. Don’t let another human tragedy like this happen in the future,” Widodo said in a televised address. “We must continue to uphold the sportsmanship, humanity and sense of brotherhood of the Indonesian nation.”

He ordered the youth and sports minister, the national police chief and the PSSI chairman to conduct a thorough assessment of the country’s football and its security procedures.

Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali also expressed his regret that “this tragedy happened when we were preparing for football matches at national and international level”.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was praying for “all who lost their lives and were injured in the clashes that erupted after a football match in Malang, Indonesia.”

Indonesia will host the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023 from May 20th to June 11th with 24 participating teams. As the host, the country automatically qualifies for the cup.

“Unfortunately, this incident certainly damaged our football image,” said Amali.

In a statement, FIFA President Gianni Infantino expressed his condolences on behalf of the global football community, saying: “The football world is in a state of shock.” The statement made no mention of the use of tear gas.

Ferli Hidayat, the local Malang police chief, said around 42,000 spectators attended the game on Saturday, all of whom were Arema supporters because the organizer banned Persebaya fans from entering the stadium to avoid brawls.

The restriction was imposed after clashes between supporters of the two rival teams at Blitar Stadium in East Java in February 2020 caused 250 million rupiah ($18,000) in damage. Clashes outside the stadium were reported during and after the semi-finals of the East Java Governor’s Cup, which ended in Persebaya beating Arema 4-2.

Rights groups responded to the tragedy by blaming the use of tear gas by police inside the stadium.

Citing FIFA’s stadium security policy against the use of crowd control gas by pitchside stewards or police, Amnesty International called on the Indonesian authorities to conduct a prompt, thorough and independent investigation into the use of tear gas at Kanjuruhan Stadium.

“Those who have committed violations will be brought to justice, not just internal or administrative sanctions,” said Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia.

He said tear gas should only be used to disperse crowds when there has been widespread violence and other methods have failed. People must be warned that tear gas will be used and allowed to spread. “No one should lose their life at a football game,” said Hamid.

Despite Indonesia’s lack of international sporting accolades, hooliganism is rife in the football-obsessed country, where bigotry often ends in violence, as in 2018 with the death of a Persija Jakarta supporter by a mob of hardcore fans of rival Persib Bandung in 2018.

Saturday’s game is already among the world’s worst mass disasters, including the 1996 World Cup qualifier between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City, which killed over 80 people and injured over 100 others. In April 2001, more than 40 people were crushed to death during a football match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Indonesian soccer match: At least 125 dead after fans stampede to exit

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