MALANG – Panic at an Indonesian soccer match on Saturday left 129 people dead, most of them trampled to death after police used tear gas to break up the riots, making it one of the world’s deadliest sporting events.
Riots broke out after the game ended on Saturday night when hosts FC Arema from the East Java city of Malang lost 3-2 to Persebaya from Surabaya.
Frustrated after their team’s loss, thousands of Arema fans, known as ‘Aremania’, reacted by pelting players and football officials with bottles and other objects. Fans flooded the Kanjuruhan Stadium pitch in protest and demanded Arema’s management to explain why the match ended in defeat after 23 years of unbeaten home games, witnesses said.
The unrest spread outside the stadium, where at least five police cars were overturned and set on fire amid the chaos. Riot police responded by using tear gas, banned by FIFA in football stadiums, causing panic in the crowd.
Some suffocated and others were trampled as hundreds of people ran for the exits, trying to escape the tear gas. The chaos at the stadium left 34 people dead, including two officers, with some reports including children among the victims.
“We had already taken preventive measures before finally using tear gas when (fans) started attacking the police, acting anarchically and burning cars,” East Java police chief Niko Affinto told a news conference early Sunday.
More than 300 were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment of their injuries, but many died en route and during treatment, Afinto said.
He said the death toll was likely to rise because many of the roughly 180 wounded, who are receiving intensive care at various hospitals, were deteriorating.
The Indonesian Football Association, known as PSSI, has suspended Liga 1 Premier Soccer League indefinitely in light of the tragedy and banned Arema from hosting soccer matches until the end of the season.
Youth and Sports Minister Zainuddin Amali expressed his condolences to the victims and their families, saying he regretted that “this tragedy happened when we were preparing for football events, both nationally and internationally.”
Indonesia is set to host the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup from May 20 to June 11 with 24 teams participating. As the host, the country automatically qualifies for the cup.
“Unfortunately, this incident has definitely damaged our football image,” Omali said.
Ferli Hidayat, Malang local police chief, said there were about 42,000 spectators at Saturday’s game, all of them Armenian, because the organizers had barred Persebaya fans from entering the stadium to avoid a fight.
The restriction was imposed after clashes between fans of two rival football teams at the Blitar Stadium in East Java in February 2020 caused a total of 250 million rupiah ($18,000) in property damage. Fights were reported outside the stadium during and after the East Java Governor’s Cup semi-final match, which ended with Persebayo beating Orema 4-2.
Despite Indonesia’s lack of international recognition in the sport, hooliganism is common in the football-obsessed country, where fanaticism often ends in violence, as in the 2018 death of a Persija Jakarta supporter who was killed by a mob of violent fans of rival club Persib Bandung in 2018. .
Saturday’s game is already included the world’s worst mass disasters, including a 1996 World Cup qualifier between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City that left more than 80 dead and more than 100 injured. In April 2001, more than 40 people were killed during a soccer match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Carmini reported from Jakarta, Indonesia.
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