At least 174 killed as Indonesia soccer fans stampede after match
The death toll at an Indonesian soccer match climbed to 174, most of whom were trampled to death after police fired tear gas to dispel riots Saturday, making it one of the world’s deadliest sports events on record.
Riots broke out after the match ended Saturday evening with host Arema FC of East Java’s Malang city losing to Persebaya of Surabaya 3-2.
Disappointed after their team’s loss, thousands of Arema supporters, known as “Aremanias,” reacted by throwing bottles and other objects at players and officials. Fans flooded the Kanjuruhan Stadium pitch in protest and demanded that Arema management explain why, after 23 years without a home defeat, this match ended in a loss, witnesses said.
The rioting spread outside the stadium, where at least five police vehicles were toppled and set ablaze.
Riot police responded to the chaos by firing tear gas, including toward the stadium’s stands, causing panic among the crowd. Tear gas is banned at soccer stadiums by FIFA, the sport’s international governing body.
Some suffocated and others were trampled as hundreds ran toward the exit to avoid the tear gas. At least 34 died at the stadium, including two officers, and some reports said children were among the casualties.
“We [had] already done a preventive action before finally firing the tear gas as [fans] began to attack the police, acting anarchically and burning vehicles,” East Java Police Chief Nico Afinta said at a news conference early Sunday.
More than 300 were rushed to hospitals, but many died on the way or during treatment, Afinta said.
East Java’s Vice Gov. Emil Dardak told Kompas TV in an interview Sunday that the death toll had climbed to 174, while more than 100 people were hospitalized, 11 of them in critical condition.
Indonesia’s soccer association, PSSI, has suspended the premier soccer league Liga 1 indefinitely and banned Arema from hosting soccer matches for the remainder of the season.
Television reports showed police and rescuers evacuating the injured and carrying away the dead.
Grieving relatives waited for information about loved ones at Malang’s Saiful Anwar General Hospital. Others tried to identify bodies at a morgue.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo expressed his deep condolences in televised remarks Sunday.
“I deeply regret this tragedy, and I hope this is the last soccer tragedy in this country. Don’t let another human tragedy like this happen,” he said. “We must continue to maintain sportsmanship, humanity and a sense of brotherhood of the Indonesian nation.”
He ordered the youth and sports minister, the national police chief and the PSSI chair to evaluate security procedures at the country’s soccer matches. He also ordered PSSI to suspend Liga 1 until security could be improved.
Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali also expressed condolences to the victims and their families, saying he regretted that “this tragedy happened when we were preparing for soccer game activities, both national and international level.”
Indonesia is due to host the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup from May 20 to June 11. As the host, the country automatically qualifies for the cup.
“Unfortunately, this incident has certainly injured our soccer image,” Zainudin said.
Ferli Hidayat, local police chief of Malang, said there were some 42,000 spectators at the game Saturday, all of whom were Aremanias because the organizer had banned Persebaya fans from entering the stadium in an effort to avoid brawls.
The restriction was imposed after clashes between supporters of the rival teams in East Java’s Blitar stadium in February 2020 caused $18,000 in damage. Fighting was reported outside the stadium during and after the semifinal round match of the East Java Governor’s Cup, which ended with Persebaya beating Arema 4-2.
Hooliganism is rife in soccer-obsessed Indonesia, where fanaticism often ends in violence, as in the 2018 death of a Persija Jakarta supporter who was killed by a mob of fans of rival Persib Bandung.
Saturday’s tragedy is among the world’s worst sporting crowd disasters, including the 1996 World Cup qualifier between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City, where more than 80 died and over 100 were injured. In April 2001, more than 40 people were crushed to death during a soccer match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
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