At least 125 are dead and hundreds more injured following a football match in Malang, East Java
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Scores of football spectators were trampled to death following a match on Saturday night (October 1) in Malang between Arema FC and Persebaya, in which the home team, Malang’s Arema FC, lost 3-2 to the Surabaya-based rival.
Riots broke out shortly after the match ended. Outraged after their team’s loss, thousands of supporters of Arema, known as “Aremania,” reacted by throwing bottles and other objects at players and soccer officials, but the hooligans didn’t stop there.
Thousands flooded the Kanjuruhan Stadium pitch in protest and, according to witness statements, demanded that Arema management explain why, after 23 years of undefeated home games against Persebaya, this match ended in a loss.
The rioting spread outside the stadium where at least five police vehicles were toppled and set ablaze amid the chaos. Riot police responded by firing tear gas, including toward the stadium’s stands, causing panic among the crowd.
Association football, for whatever reason, has a disproportionate contingent of so-called “soccer hooligans,” and riots break out at football matches with far more frequency than at most other sporting events. Despite this, firearms, tear gas, and similar crowd control measures have been banned at football stadiums by FIFA, likely with what happened in East Java a key reason for that.
It stands to reason that the decision by police officers to use tear gas on the crowd will be a key part of investigations, as this action appears to have triggered the panicked stampede, in effect making an already bad situation considerably worse.
Some fans suffocated and others were trampled as hundreds of people ran to the exits in an effort to avoid the tear gas. In the chaos, some three dozen died at the stadium, including two officers, and some unconfirmed reports included children among the casualties. Indonesian officials on Sunday reported a death toll of 174, but that figure appears to have been erroneous, as subsequent reports put the number of fatalities at 125, with 380 injuries.
DEATH TOLL QUICKLY SOARS
More than 300 were rushed to nearby hospitals to treat injuries, but many died on the way and more succumbed to their injuries during treatment, East Java Police chief Nico Afinta said during a news conference.
East Java’s Vice Gov. Emil Dardak, meanwhile, told Kompas TV in an interview Sunday the death toll had climbed to 174, while more than 100 injured people are receiving intensive treatment in eight hospitals without any charge, 11 of them in critical condition. The number of fatalities was later revised downward to 125, with authorities saying some of the victims had been counted twice in error.
Television reports showed police and rescuers evacuating the injured and carrying the dead to ambulances. Anxious relatives waited for information about their loved ones at Malang’s Saiful Anwar General Hospital. Others were seen trying to identify the bodies laid at a morgue.
President Joko Widodo has ordered that all matches in Indonesia’s top league must be stopped until a full investigation has been carried out.
Videos from the stadium show fans running on to the pitch after the final whistle marked the home team’s 2-3 defeat, and police firing tear gas in response. “It had gotten anarchic. They started attacking officers, they damaged cars,” said Chief Afinta, pointing out that two police officers were among the dead.
“We would like to convey that… not all of them were anarchic. Only about 3,000 who entered the pitch,” he said. Fleeing fans “went out to one point at the exit. Then there was a build-up, in the process of accumulation there was shortness of breath, lack of oxygen,” Afinta added.
Videos on social media show fans climbing and leaping over over fences to escape. Other videos appear to show lifeless bodies on the ground and stadium floor.
ANOTHER STAIN ON INDONESIAN FOOTBALL
The death toll, which may yet rise, already put the match into the top tier of history’s worst stadium disasters in the last half-century – virtually all of them football matches. It’s quite unclear why football stands nearly alone as the sport that inspires so many deadly riots and stampedes around the world.
Despite Indonesia’s lack of international accolades in the sport, hooliganism is rife in the football-obsessed country where team fanaticism too often leads to violence, as in the 2018 death of a Persija Jakarta supporter who was killed by a mob of hardcore fans of rival club Persib Bandung in 2018.
Saturday’s game in East Java is already among the world’s worst crowd disasters, including the 1996 World Cup qualifier between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City where over 80 died and over 100 more were injured. In April 2001, more than 40 people were crushed to death during a football match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Indonesia’s football association, known as PSSI, immediately suspended the premier league, Liga 1, indefinitely in light of the tragedy and further banned Arema from hosting any matches for the remainder of the season.
According to Al Jazeera, the tragedy comes as Indonesia is scheduled to host the FIFA U-20 World Cup in May and June next year. They are also one of three countries bidding to stage next year’s Asian Cup, the continent’s equivalent of the Euros, after China pulled out as host.
Al Jazeera’s Jessica Washington, reporting from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, said Saturday’s disaster was “historic.”
“Violence and riots are a common occurrence at football matches in Indonesia, but we have never seen something like this before,” she said.
“This is a historic tragedy, not only for football in Indonesia but football internationally. This is one of the biggest tragedies the sport has seen, in terms of fan violence, in terms of deaths of fans at a match,” she added.
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