Indonesian soccer match stampede leaves 174 dead

The death toll from panic at an Indonesian soccer match rose to 174, most of whom were trampled to death after police fired tear gas to disperse riots on Saturday, making it one of the world’s deadliest sporting events.

Riots broke out 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 their team’s defeat, thousands of Arema supporters, known as ‘Aramania’, responded by throwing bottles and other objects at players and football officials. Fans flooded the pitch at Kanjuruhan Stadium in protest, demanding Arema management explain why that game ended in defeat after 23 years of unbeaten home games, witnesses said.

The riots spread outside the stadium, where at least five police vehicles were overturned and set on fire amid the chaos. Riot police responded by firing tear gas, including into the stadium’s stands, causing panic among the crowd. Tear gas is banned in football stadiums by FIFA.

Some suffocated and others were 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 early in the morning Sunday.

More than 300 were rushed to nearby hospitals to treat injuries, but many died en route and during treatment, Afinta said.

East Java Deputy Governor Emil Dardak said in an interview with Kompas TV on Sunday the death toll has risen to 174, while more than 100 injured people are being treated intensively without charge in eight hospitals, 11 of them in critical condition.

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 tried to identify the bodies lying in a morgue.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo expressed his deep condolences for the dead in a televised speech on Sunday.

“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. “We must continue to uphold the sportsmanship, humanity and sense of brotherhood of the Indonesian nation.”

He instructed the Minister for Youth and Sport, the Chief of the National Police and the PSSI chairman to conduct a thorough assessment of the country’s football game and its security procedures.

He also ordered PSSI to temporarily suspend League 1 until they could be evaluated and safety procedures improved.

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”.

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.

Ferli Hidayat, Malang’s local police chief, said there were around 42,000 spectators at Saturday’s match, all of them Areman, 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 soccer teams at Blitar Stadium in East Java in February 2020 caused property damage totaling 250 million rupiah ($18,000). Brawls were reported outside the stadium during and after the East Java Governor’s Cup semi-final round match, which ended in Persebaya’s 4-2 win over Arema.

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. Indonesian soccer match stampede leaves 174 dead

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