At least 125 people have died after chaos and violence erupted during an Indonesian league soccer match in the early hours of Sunday, according to the head of the Indonesian National Police, in what is one of the world’s deadliest stadium disasters of all time.
Supporters of Arema FC and rival Persebaya Surabaya, two of Indonesia’s top football teams, clashed in the stands after local team Arema FC was beaten 3-2 in a match in Malang city, in East Java, police said.
Supporters of the losing team “invaded” the pitch and police fired tear gas, triggering a rush of fans that led to cases of suffocation, East Java Police Chief Nico Afinta said during a post-event press conference. .
Two police officers were also among the dead, he said, adding that the crushing occurred as fans were fleeing toward an exit door.
More than 300 people were injured, according to Indonesian authorities, fearing the death toll could rise.
Earlier on Sunday, the governor of East Java province, where the incident occurred, put the death toll at 131. National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo clarified the discrepancy from earlier higher figures saying that was because some victims registered twice.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, on Sunday ordered all league matches to be suspended until investigations were completed.
“I have especially asked the chief of police to investigate and get to the bottom of this case,” Jokowi said in a televised speech. “Sportsmanship, humanity and brotherhood must be upheld in Indonesia.”
“I am sorry for this tragedy and I hope it will be the last one to happen in Indonesian football. We cannot have more (of this) in the future.”
Videos shot from inside the stadium late into the night and shared on social media showed fans, dressed in red and blue, the colors of the home team, storming onto the pitch and clashing with Indonesian security forces, who appeared to be wearing riot gear.
Video footage broadcast on local news channels also showed images of body bags, Reuters reported.
Smoke, which appeared to be tear gas, was also seen later in videos, with several people shown being led into a building. Authorities said many had been admitted to nearby hospitals, suffering from “lack of oxygen and shortness of breath”.
Located in East Java, the Kanjuruhan Stadium is mainly used for football matches, with a total capacity estimated at 38,000 spectators.
But 42,000 tickets were issued for Saturday’s match, according to ministry officials.
“We anticipated the (big) numbers and suggested that the game take place in the afternoon, but it continued at night,” Indonesian Chief Security Minister Mahfud MD said in a post shared on his official social media accounts. .
He added that the stadium had been “filled beyond its maximum capacity”.
“Our proposals were not fulfilled. I would also like to emphasize that the supporters on the pitch were from Arema FC”.
There have been previous outbreaks of match problems in Indonesia, with strong rivalry between clubs sometimes leading to violence between fans.
“All sports clubs (in Indonesia) that compete between cities are always intense,” Indonesian soccer analyst Dex Glenniza told CNN, noting that it was “forbidden” for Arema and Persebaya supporters to visit each other’s stadiums. .
“(This is) to avoid friction and clashes between supporters,” he said. “But there are still a lot of incidents between fans, mostly off the pitch.”
Police chief Listyo said officers will observe the organization and security that was put in place during the match, and several specialized units were dispatched to investigate the incident. The investigation will also look into police officers who were on duty at the time of the incident, he said.
With Indonesia set to host next year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup and bid for the 2023 Asian Cup, there is now global scrutiny on the country.
Observers note that the death toll from the Kanjuruhan Stadium disaster has surpassed that of other global soccer disasters such as the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium tragedy in Sheffield, England, in which 96 Liverpool supporters were crushed to death.
Criticism is also growing over the police handling of Saturday’s event. In a statement issued on Sunday, the Indonesian Police Watch (IPW) watchdog group called for accountability and the “removal” of Malang police chief Ferli Hidayat.
“This is the worst event in Indonesian football. The police chief should be ashamed and resign,” IPW said.
“The death toll must be thoroughly investigated and President Jokowi must pay attention,” he added.
Indonesian rights defender in exile Veronica Koman of Amnesty International condemned the use of tear gas by police.
“This case of police tear gas abuse is illegal and amounts to torture,” he said.
“Tear gas is illegal in war, but why is it still legal for domestic use?”
The Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) has suspended next week’s matches as a result of the deadly tragedy and banned Arema FC from hosting matches for the rest of the season.
“PSSI regrets the actions of Aremania supporters at Kanjuruhan Stadium,” the association’s president, Mochamad Iriawan, said in a statement issued on Sunday.
He added that the incident had “stained the face of Indonesian football” and that they were supporting official investigations into the event.
“We are sorry and apologize to the families of the victims and all parties for the incident,” he said.
“For that, PSSI immediately formed an investigation team and immediately left for Malang,” he added.
FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, expressed its condolences to the families and friends of the victims, calling the incident “a dark day for everyone involved in football and a tragedy beyond comprehension.”
“Together with FIFA and the world football community, all our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, the injured, along with the people of the Republic of Indonesia, the Asian Football Confederation, the Indonesian Football Association, Indonesia and the Indonesian Football Federation. Liga, at this difficult time,” read a statement from FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
Meanwhile, the host team Arema FC apologized to all those involved in the tragedy in a statement posted on its website.
“As president of Arema FC, I apologize to all Malang residents who were affected by this incident. I am very concerned and strongly condemn the riots at the Kanjuruhan stadium which resulted in over a hundred deaths,” the statement said, citing club president Gilang Widya Pramana.
Persebaya also released a statement expressing their condolences, saying: “Persebaya’s great family expresses its deepest condolences for the loss of life after the Arema FC vs. Perseberry. No life is worth football”.
“Alfatihah for the victims and may the family left behind be strengthened.”
Condolences were poured out for the victims and their families, with the English Premier League also sharing a condolence message. “The thoughts of everyone in the Premier League are with those affected by the tragic events at Kanjuruhan Stadium last night.”