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Widodo orders investigation into security after more than 170 football fans killed at top-flight match

Sydney Morning Herald - October 2, 2022

Chris Barrett and Karuni Rompies, Singapore/Jakarta – Indonesia President Joko Widodo has ordered an investigation into security procedures at a football match in East Java after one of the worst stadium disasters in history.

At least 174 people were killed and more than 180 injured in a crowd stampede after police fired tear gas at supporters who stormed the field following a top-division game between Javanese rivals Arema and Persebaya Surabaya in Malang on Saturday night.

Police said they had been forced to control the crowd after 3000 fans of the home team Arema, which had lost the game 3-2, invaded the pitch.

But the actions of security forces will be scrutinised after horrific scenes in which dozens of people suffocated and were trampled on while fleeing for exit gates.

FIFA, world football's governing body, specifies in its safety regulations that no firearms or "crowd control gas" should be carried or used by stewards or police.

As well as deploying tear gas, vision from Kanjuruhan Stadium showed officers striking fans with batons as a huge crowd ran from the field.

Widodo, known as Jokowi in Indonesia, suspended the Liga 1 competition on Sunday and demanded a thorough investigation.

He said he had instructed his sport and youth minister, police chief and the head of the Indonesian football association, the PSSI, to "carry out a total evaluation on the holding of the football match and the whole security procedure".

There were further questions raised about authorities' handling of the match after Indonesia's chief security minister Mahfud MD said in an Instagram post that he believed 42,000 tickets had been issued for a stadium despite it only having a capacity of 38,000.

However, East Java police chief Nico Afinta defended the response of police, saying "it had gotten anarchic" on the field, with officers being attacked and police vehicles damaged.

"The match itself went without problems. The problem started after it's over – there was disappointment. Arema have not lost a game [against Persebaya] in its own place [in Malang] in the past 23 years," Afinta said.

"It was caused after spectators went down to the field to look for players or officials to find out why they lost. The [security] committee took steps so that [spectators] would not go after the players. In that process [security officers] fired tear gas."

He said that as a result of the tear gas being fired, fans rushed to one exit and "then there was a build-up". "That process caused shortness of breath [and] lack of oxygen and medical teams tried to do rescue efforts in the stadium," he said.

The death toll had reached 174 by Sunday afternoon, said Deputy East Java governor Emil Dardak. Among the dead were 17 children between the ages of 12 and 17, according to Indonesia's ministry of women's empowerment and child protection.

The police chief said 34 people had died at the venue and the others lost their lives in hospital or while being transported there by emergency services. Two of those who died were policemen, he said.

Police vehicles on the pitch were flipped over in the chaos and cars outside the venue were torched. Pictures show fires burning near the wreckage of police vehicles on the field.

For security reasons, fans of Persebaya had not been permitted to attend the stadium for the provincial derby, which was held between 8pm and 10pm on Saturday.

Sports Minister Zainudin Amali said "those who are responsible must be held accountable" but indicated at least some of the blame lay with Arema fans who had burst onto the field.

"The lessons learnt is the maturity to accept when we win or lose," he said. He admitted Indonesia, which is due to host the Under-20 World Cup next year, would be "tarnished by this tragedy".

"This is deeply regrettable. We will be hosting the Under 20 [World Cup] next year and there will be several other soccer matches. This incident will definitely give negative judgment in the eyes of the international community," he told Metro TV.

"We should really show that we change. We should no longer do such things. We hope we can change and the world can believe that we can be a good host for international matches."

There have been outbreaks of trouble at matches in Indonesia, with strong rivalries between clubs sometimes leading to violence among supporters, but never a football-related tragedy on such a scale.

The number of deaths exceeded the 97 sustained in the Hillsborough disaster during an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in Sheffield in 1989.

The deadliest stadium disaster occurred in 1964 at the Estadio Nacional in Lima when 328 people were killed in a stampede during a match between Peru and Argentina.

Arema have been banned from hosting games for the rest of the season.

On its official Twitter account, the Persebaya club expressed its "deepest condolences for the loss of life". "No single life is worth football," it said. "We pray for the victims and may the families left behind be given strength."

In a statement FIFA president Gianni Infantino extended his condolences to the families and friends of the victims, and the injured.

"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.

"This is a dark day for all involved in football and a tragedy beyond comprehension."

– With Reuters

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/more-than-120-football-fans-dead-at-indonesian-top-flight-match-say-police-20221002-p5bmje.htm