Jakarta: After Arema, the beloved football club of Malang City, Indonesia lost 2-3 on home ground to bitter rival Persebaya on Saturday evening (Oct 1), hundreds of spectators believed to be fans rushed to the pitch to show their disappointment.
Police and military guarding the Kanjuruhan Stadium then responded by firing tear gas canisters both at the crowd on the pitch and the spectators on the stand.
This happened despite the standard security protocol set by football’s governing body, FIFA which is against the use of firing tear gas inside stadiums.
There were 42,000 people watching Saturday’s game and all rushed to flee the cloud of irritating smoke covering the stadium. As a result, 125 people were killed in a stampede, making it one of the deadliest sports disasters in history.
It is not uncommon for football matches in Indonesia to descend into violence, according to reports 78 people have died in game-related incidents over the past 28 years.
However, what happened on Saturday was a sporting disaster of such scale that Indonesia had not seen before.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Sunday instructed a full investigation into the incident. The president also ordered upcoming matches in Indonesia’s first division football league, Liga 1, to be suspended until an evaluation of security at sporting matches is conducted.
Some Indonesians were quick to blame the police’s mishandling of the situation while others said unruly fans also contributed to the disaster.
The whole incident at Indonesia stampede
Arema and Persebaya, the football club of Surabaya City which is just a two-hour drive from Malang, are bitter rivals. Fans of Arema, known as “Aremania”, and those of Persebaya, known as “Bonek” often engaged in brawls with one another.
Knowing this information, the Malang Police requested the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) and the league’s organizer, PT Liga Indonesia Baru (LIB), to stage the match in the afternoon instead of 8 pm for security reasons. PSSI’s secretary general, Yunus Nusi told reporters on Sunday that the proposal was rejected adding that as a compromise Persebaya fans were barred from attending the match.
Nusi told Indonesian media during a press conference at the association’s office in Jakarta, “That is the reason the organizers and LIB (rejected the proposal). The likelihood of a brawl was small … because there would be no Persebaya supporters coming to Malang.”
Arema had never lost to Persebaya on home soil for 23 years, which is why Aremania was devastated by the 2-3 defeat. When the final whistle was blown at 10.30 pm, fans were booing and throwing bottles at the outgoing Persebaya players. Meanwhile, a handful of fans climbed the fence, descended onto the pitch, and were seen running and shouting at Arema players.
Why did police use tear gas?
Security officials tried to chase them away which led to more fans to descending the pitch. Within minutes, 3,000 spectators had swarmed the pitch, according to a police estimate.
This prompted police officers to fire tear gas canisters both at the pitch to disperse the crowd as well as at the stand to prevent more fans from climbing the fence.
Article 19 of FIFA’s Stadium Safety and Security Regulation barred police or the game’s stewards from using firearms and “crowd control gas” to maintain public order. But East Java police chief, Nico Afinta defended its use, saying that it was according to police protocol.
The provincial police chief told reporters on Sunday, “The shooting of tear gas canisters was done as preventive and diversion methods so that they didn’t enter the pitch or chase players. (Fans) were assaulting officers and damaged (police) cars and we ultimately had to fire tear gas.”
But experts and activists questioned the move saying that while tear gas might be effective in dispersing rioters in an outdoor setting, its use could cause panic in an enclosed stadium.
Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said in a statement, “The deaths occurred after police use of tear gas on the crowd resulted in a stampede at the stadium exits. Tear gas should also never be fired in confined spaces. This loss of life cannot go unanswered.”
Military admits that they acted excessively
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Indonesian military chief Andika Perkasa admitted that some military personnel responsible for securing the match had acted excessively by hitting fans who were already retreating or lying helpless on the ground.
He said, “For me, this is a criminal act. We will not (impose) disciplinary sanctions but (launch a) criminal (prosecution). Because (their actions) were excessive.”
Government forming independent fact-finding team
Coordinating Minister for Politics, Legal and Security, Mohammad Mahfud said overcapacity might also be to blame.
He told local media on Sunday, “The number of spectators should be based on the stadium’s capacity, which is 38,000 people. But the organizer did not do this … The ticket sold was 42,000.”
Mahfud announced on Monday that the government is forming an independent fact-finding team comprising senior government officials, representatives of football clubs and associations as well as academics and the media to determine what happened at Kanjuruhan Stadium.
The team will be led by Mahfud with Youth and Sports Minister Zainuddin Amali serving as vice chairman. The team is expected to complete its fact-finding task and make recommendations in two or three weeks.
Mahfud told a press conference at his office in Jakarta, “Police are asked to immediately identify the culprits over the next few days and to conduct an evaluation on how security is handled in their respective areas.”
“Although the loss of lives cannot be valued in money, the president is willing to provide compensation of Rp 50 million (US$3,268) for each deceased victim. We will soon do it. We just need to verify administrative data with the local government and so on,” he added.
Government takes strict actions
Mahfud also said that the government will foot all of the victim’s medical expenses and is considering compensation for them. He said that the type and form of the compensation will be determined over the next one or two days.
PSSI chairman Mochamad Iriawan said the association has decided to suspend Liga 1 matches indefinitely as the body evaluates its safety and security procedures. Arema is also barred from staging home matches for the remainder of the season. Arema still has 23 more matches.
He said in a statement on Monday“We would like to apologize to the victims’ families and all the others affected. PSSI is making an evaluation so that incidents like this will not happen again.”
FIFA: “DARK DAY FOR ALL INVOLVED IN FOOTBALL”
On Sunday, vigils were staged in several cities by fans of their respective football clubs, including Persebaya fans in Surabaya.
Football stadiums across the world also observed a minute of silence for the fallen Arema fans on Sunday, while FIFA headquarters in Zurich flew flags of its member countries at half-mast in a show of respect.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a statement, “This is a dark day for all involved in football and a tragedy beyond comprehension.”
FIFA had not stated whether it will impose any sanctions on Indonesian football, including what would happen to Indonesia’s plan to host the Under 20 World Cup next year.
However, PSSI secretary general Nusi said the football governing body had requested PSSI to submit a report on what happened and the outcome of the police’s ongoing investigation.