Indonesian stadium stampede 'dark day for all of football' says Fifa president

Arema football club supporters lights candles during a vigil outside the Kanjuruhan stadium to pay condolence to victims of the stampede that took place after a match between Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya.
PHOTO: Reuters

The death of at least 125 people in an Indonesian stadium stampede was “a dark day for all involved in football and a tragedy beyond comprehension”, Fifa president Gianni Infantino said on Sunday (Oct 2).

The incident on Saturday night in the city of Malang, which also left 180 injured, was one of the world’s deadliest sporting stadium disasters.

“The football world is in a state of shock following 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,” Infantino said.

“All our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, those who have been injured, together with the people of the Republic of Indonesia.”

Fifa has asked football bosses in Indonesia for a report into the riot, which authorities had initially said killed 174, but revised the number down because some victims were counted twice.

The deaths at the match between Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya followed the firing of tear gas by police after Arema fans, whose side lost 3-2, stormed the pitch.

East Java police chief Nico Afinta said officers had been left with no choice after the riot broke out, adding that police had been attacked.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Sunday that authorities must thoroughly evaluate security at matches, adding that he hoped this would be “the last soccer tragedy in the nation”.

Jokowi, as the president is known, ordered the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) to suspend all games in the country’s top league BRI Liga 1 until an investigation had been completed.

Supporters evacuate a man due to tear gas fired by police during violence after the football match between Arema vs Persebaya at Kanjuruhan Stadium, Malang, East Java province, Indonesia, on Oct 2, 2022. 
PHOTO: Reuters

Fifa specifies in its safety regulations that no firearms or “crowd control gas” should be carried or used by stewards or police.

East Java police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they were aware of such regulations.

The country’s chief security minister, Mahfud MD, said in an Instagram post that the stadium had been filled beyond its capacity. He said 42,000 tickets had been issued for a stadium that is only supposed to hold 38,000 people.12

Indonesia is expected to host the Fifa under-20 World Cup in May and June next year. They are also one of three countries bidding to stage next year’s Asian Cup, for which Hong Kong has qualified for the first time in 54 years, after China pulled out as hosts.

A decision on that bid, where Indonesia is competing with Qatar and South Korea, is expected to be announced by the Asian Football Confederation’s executive committee on Oct 17.

Damaged vehicles are seen inside the Kanjuruhan stadium where the stampede took place in Malang, East Java province, Indonesia, on Oct 2, 2022.
PHOTO: Reuters

The head of the confederation, Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, said in a statement he was “deeply shocked and saddened to hear such tragic news coming out of football-loving Indonesia”, expressing condolences for the victims, their families and friends.

Volatile crowds and violent fan groups have long been a hallmark of Indonesian football, with rivalries in the top flight regularly turning deadly.

Between 1994 and 2019, 74 fans died in football related violence, according to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corp, with Persib Bandung supporters banned from matches in 2018 after the lynching of a Persija Jakarta fan.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.