A soccer stadium stampede results in 125 deaths and many unanswered questions.
This past weekend on Saturday, Oct. 1, a stampede at an Indonesian soccer game ended in tragedy, killing 125 people and injuring approximately 320 more.
The riot started at the Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang, East Java with the Arema FC’s loss in the soccer match against rival team Persebaya Surabaya, the first defeat from their rival team in 23 years. ESPN reported that after the game ended, the fans flooded the field and began to act aggressively toward the players and officials. Soon, the violence spread to outside the stadium where the crowd was said to have turned over and set fire to five police vehicles.
The riot police that were deployed used batons and shields to control the crowd but eventually began firing tear gas, which is what many are speculating as the cause of the stampede.
While FIFA technically has no control over domestic games, this use of tear gas comes in contrast with FIFA’s specific safety regulations that instruct no firearms or “crowd control gas” should be carried or used by police or stewards, according to Reuters.
One spectator that ESPN spoke to said that, “Officers fired tear gas directly at spectators in the stands, forcing us to run toward the exit,” he said. “Many victims fell because of shortness of breath and difficulty seeing due to tear gas and were trampled.”
This spectator was able to climb to the roof of the stands until the chaos was over.
In an early morning news conference on Sunday, East Java police chief Nico Afinta said, “We have already done a preventive action before finally firing the tear gas as [fans] began to attack the police, acting anarchically and burning vehicles,” according to ESPN.
In reaction to the tragedy, Indonesia’s soccer association PSSI has suspended its top division and put a ban on the Arema FC from hosting any more matches for the remainder of the season.
These two teams’ intense rivalry had already caused a ban on rival Persebaya Surabaya spectators to attend the game.
Loved ones and relatives of the victims are still waiting for the bodies to be identified and some are working with medical professionals to help in the process of identification.
In a televised speech, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said, “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 in the future. We must continue to maintain sportsmanship, humanity and a sense of brotherhood of the Indonesian nation,” according to ESPN.
One of the main reactions to this event has been outrage from people in regards to how the police handled the situation and an outcry for an investigation into the department. Some are pointing out a pattern of unaccountability from the Indonesian police and that the problems lie in the fact that the decision to investigate accusations of police misconduct are left up to the top officials, according to the New York Times.
This tragedy comes during the time before Indonesia is due to host the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup and has already been placed at the top of the world’s worst crowd disasters, according to ESPN. Its death totals come alongside those from the 1996 qualifier in Guatemala City between Guatemala and Costa Rica teams, where over 80 people were killed and over 100 more injured.
Another tragedy of this scale was in Hillsborough in 1993 where 97 people were killed and 760 were injured in a deadly crush caused by poor communication from police officers. The Hillsborough tragedy and the one most recently in Indonesia differ in their aggression and violence by fans. In the Hillsborough tragedy, the deaths were thought to have been caused by poor planning and over-packing of fans. However, these facts were only investigated and learned later on, long after the tragedy occurred.