Scores Dead as Chaos Takes Over Soccer Match in Indonesia

Posted on: October 3, 2022, 02:17h. 

Last updated on: October 3, 2022, 02:17h.

A soccer match in Indonesia on Saturday ended in the worst possible way. There were at least 125 deaths when thousands of fans of the Arema FC club burst onto the field after a 3-2 defeat to Persebaya Surabaya at the Kanjuruhan Stadium in the city of Malang.

Indonesia soccer riot
An Indonesia police car sits on its side following a riot after a soccer match. At least 125 died during the melee, which is causing international condemnation. (Image: Reuters)

The situation spiraled out of control when security forces tried to persuade the fans, about three thousand, with tear gas. The panic of the more than 40,000 people at the stadium caused a huge human stampede. Many of the victims were trampled or suffocated to death, according to official reports.

Initial reports put the death toll as high as 174. However, local authorities confirmed today the lower amount, explaining that the previous report was due to an error in counting the bodies. Among the fatal victims, there are children between the ages of 12 and 17 and a confirmed one of just 5.

Indonesian Soccer On Pause

The angry crowd rammed into the police and destroyed various buildings of the sports center. They also went after vehicles in an outbreak of violence that was described by the police as “anarchic.”

The president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, ordered the suspension of all matches of the national league. He called the outcome of the riot a “true humanitarian tragedy.”

At the same time, the league has responded, as well. It stated that Arema, which previously had online gambling platform Bola 88 as a sponsor, cannot host competitions for the rest of the season.

For its part, the Indonesian Football Federation (PSSI, for its Indonesian acronym) had previously indicated that it “regrets the actions of the fans” and reported that an investigation team was formed in the city of Malang, where the stadium is located.

Javier Roca, Arema’s coach, gave an interview to Spanish media outlet Ser and recounted part of the tragedy. He said that four fans died in the team’s locker room in the arms of some of the players. The Chilean added that Indonesia’s soccer is full of “uncontrollable madness.”

FIFA president Gianni Infantino issued a statement calling the event “a tragedy beyond all understanding.” He added, “The world of soccer is shocked after the tragic incidents that have taken place in Indonesia at the end of the match between Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya at the Kanjuruhan stadium.”

Locals Aren’t Surprised

While the global condemnation for what happened is understandable, many locals saw this coming. The two teams have some of the most hostile fan groups that have regularly clashed, not only at soccer games, but also at other events the stadium has hosted.

Called ‘Bonek’ (reckless), Surabaya fans are rabid fans of their team. Likewise, Arema’s fans have an aggressive reputation. The rivalries are as much cultural as they are sporting.

While the two initially had separate rivals, the creation of Indonesia’s League 1 altered the course of soccer. The two sides began to find themselves in heated exchanges.

Things continued to escalate to the point that a police presence became a necessity. After the separation of the two teams into East and West divisions of the league, the rivalry intensified. Then, in 1988, the two teams and League 1 agreed to implement mandatory segregation of the teams’ fans during matches.

That wasn’t the end of it, though. Two years later, an Indonesian musician used Persebaya’s Tambaksari Stadium to introduce a new album.

During the concert, Persebaya supporters accused Artemania’s followers of taking over the arena and overpowering the music by loudly singing Artema FC songs. Riots broke out after the concert between the two groups.

In 1992, Sepultura, a Brazilian heavy metal band, made a stop at Tambaksari Stadium as it toured Indonesia. This time, Bonek blocked Artemania’s entrance. This also resulted in riots.

Issues have continued since then, one of which even cost an Indonesian soccer player his career after he was hit in the eye with a rock. Civil rivalries can be healthy for competitive sports. However, Saturday’s riot was neither civil nor healthy.

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