More than 170 people lost their lives and another 180 were injured after a football match in Indonesia erupted into rioting and stampede on Saturday night.
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What happened at the Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang, East Java, which led to such a high number of casualties? What have been some other stadium tragedies, in India and the world?
What happened in the Indonesia football game
Football is popular in Indonesia and passions run high before big games, often resulting in clashes between fans. What made matters worse in Malang were overcrowding and the panic created by the police’s use of tear gas.
On Saturday, Arema FC were playing arch rivals Persebaya Surabaya at the former’s home stadium. Only Arema fans had been allowed inside, to curb possible rioting by fans of the two teams. However, after Persebaya won 3-2, thousands of irate fans poured onto the pitch, hurling bottles and other items at players and officials. The rioting spread outside, with people toppling and damaging police cars, according to an Associated Press report.
The police then fired tear gas, prompting panic and a rush to exits. The stadium had sold 42,000 tickets, against its capacity of 38,000. The stampede and suffocation claimed 174 lives, including that of a five-year-old boy and two police officers. Among the injured, many are reported to be in a critical condition.
The BBC quoted Nico Afinta, police chief in East Java, as saying, “It had gotten anarchic. They started attacking officers, they damaged cars. We would like to convey that… not all of them were anarchic. Only about 3,000 who entered the pitch.”
What happens now
The use of any crowd control gas or firearms is prohibited by world football governing body FIFA’s safety regulations. According to a Reuters report, East Java police “did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they were aware of such regulations”. Reuters added that FIFA has asked for a report on the incident from Indonesia’s PSSI football association, and a PSSI team has been sent to Malang to investigate.
The government will provide financial help to the Malang victims.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has ordered a probe into the case. He has also ordered the premier soccer league to be suspended until a reexamination of safety preparedness. Indonesian sports and youth minister, Zainudin Amali, said, “We will thoroughly evaluate the organisation of the match and the attendance of supporters. Will we return to banning supporters from attending the matches? That is what we will discuss.”
Indonesia’s football body has banned Arema from hosting matches for the rest of the season.
Previous instances of football violence in Indonesia
Indonesia football supporters often clash with rivals both within the country and outside. According to an AP report, in Jakarta in 2019, Malaysian fans “were threatened and pelted with projectiles at a World Cup qualifier in Jakarta, and Malaysia’s visiting sports minister had to be evacuated from the stadium after violence broke out.”
Other stadium tragedies
Over the decades, many sporting events have seen tragedies, killing scores of fans.
On August 16, 1980, 16 people were killed in a stampede and riot inside Kolkata’s Eden Gardens during a high-octane Mohun Bagan-East Bengal Calcutta Football League match.
The clashes among fans were set off after an on-pitch scuffle between Dilip Palit of East Bengal and Bidesh Bose of Mohun Bagan. There was no seating segregation between supporters of the two teams, so the violence spread. Meanwhile, the match continued as no one on the pitch realised how bad things in the stand were. Later, it was decided to observe August 16 as Football Lovers’ Day.
In what is among the worst stadium tragedies, 320 people were killed during a stampede at a Peru-Argentina Olympic qualifier in Lima in 1964.
Closer home, in Nepal in March 1988, 90 people were killed at Kathmandu’s national football stadium as fans rushed towards locked gates in a hailstorm.