What was behind the deadly Indonesian football match stampede?

Chaos broke out after Persebaya Surabaya defeated rivals Arema Malang 3-2 in Saturday night’s game in East Java’s Malang city.

A pair of trainers trampled in the stands at Kanjuruhan Stadium
A pair of trainers trampled in the stands at Kanjuruhan Stadium

Violence and a deadly stampede that erupted following a domestic league football match on Saturday night marked another tragedy in Indonesian football. Here is 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 rivals Arema Malang 3-2 in Saturday night’s match in East Java’s Malang city.

Police said there were some 42,000 spectators in the stadium, all of whom were Arema supporters because organisers had banned Persebaya fans in an effort to avoid brawls.

But a disappointing loss by Arema – the first match lost to Persebaya at their home stadium – prompted angry spectators to pour on to the field after the match to demand answers.

Indonesia Soccer Deaths
Police cars were wrecked during the clashes at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, Indonesia (Trisnadi/AP)

Fans threw bottles and other objects at players and officials, and rioting spread outside the stadium, where at least five police cars were overturned and set on fire, and others damaged.

Riot police responded with tear gas, which is banned at football stadiums by Fifa. But it sparked panic.

Hundreds of spectators rushed to an exit gate to avoid the tear gas, resulting in a stampede in which 34 people were trampled to death or suffocated 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 to death.

More than 100 others were injured.

Police said the death toll is likely to rise with multiple people in a critical condition.

Data from an Indonesian football watchdog organisation, Save Our Soccer, said that since 1995 at least 86 Indonesian fans have died in connection with supporting their club during a match, most of them because of fights between fans.

The riots and stampede on Saturday will be added to the long list of events where fans have died supporting their club.

Indonesia Soccer Deaths
People searching for family members inspect photographs of riot victims provided by volunteers (Dicky Bisinglasi/AP)

– Why does football engender 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 riots between supporters usually happen outside the stadium.

The most well-known 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 arch-rivals 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.

Indonesia Soccer Deaths
People examine the damage following the stampede at the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, Indonesia (Hendra Permana/AP)

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 Indonesian 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 football league be suspended until a re-evaluation of match safety has been carried out and tighter security put in place.

Mr Widodo said he hopes “this tragedy will be the last tragedy of football in Indonesia”.

Indonesia’s football association has also banned Arema from hosting 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 violation are tried in open court.

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