Indonesian football tragedy was ‘an imminent accident’ – experts | Sports | German football and major international sports news | DW

Indonesia’s top flight match between Arema Malang and Persebaya Surabaya ended in chaos and tragedy on Saturday night. Indiscriminate police used tear gas in response to a pitch invasion that caused massive panic, jostling, crushing and 125 provisional deaths (Sunday local time).

The current death toll makes it the deadliest stadium tragedy in Indonesian football and the third deadliest such event in sport anywhere in the world, after the Accra Sport stadium disaster in Ghana in 2001 (126 death). Only the Estadio Nacional disaster in Lima, Peru in 1964 (328 dead) resulted in a greater loss of life.

Indonesia’s Liga 1 has been temporarily suspended and local club Arema banned from hosting games for the rest of the season, while the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) is launching an investigation.

For those familiar with Indonesian football, fan culture and stadium policing, the tragedy at Kanjuruhan Stadium in East Java sadly comes as no surprise.

“Awful organisation, appalling facilities, appalling policing and a culture of violence within certain sections of the fan culture – it was a disaster in the making,” says James Montague, a British expert in global fan culture who spent time traveling with Indonesian football fans. while researching his 2020 book”1312: Among the Ultras.

Andrin Brändle, a Swiss author who spent a summer accompanying Indonesian side PSS Sleman for his book “A summer with Sleman“, agrees, writing for the Swiss broadcaster SRF that “suboptimal infrastructures”, a “lack of coordination between the security forces” and an “incredible dynamic on the terraces” are responsible for it.

“You frequently see coaches being attacked by fans for poor results,” says fan culture expert James Montague

Vibrant but violent fan culture

Indonesia has one of the most vibrant and intense fan cultures in Southeast Asia, with well-attended matches and competitions featuring heated rivalries and derbies on and off the pitch. But violence is not uncommon.

In terms of vitriol, the East Java derby between Arema Malang and Persebaya Surabaya is the second after the meetings between Persib Bandung and Persija Jakarta – known as the Indonesian El Clasico – which was due to take place on Sunday before a winner late from Persebaya to Arema. (3-2) resulted in a pitch invasion.

“It’s not unusual, it happens quite frequently,” Montague told DW. “You frequently see coaches attacked by fans for poor results.”

In the absence of visiting supporters, who are usually banned from attending the biggest derbies, Arema supporters first took to the pitch to talk to their players, before the situation escalated with the arrival of the police. riot.

“There is an incredible fan culture in Indonesia that has a lot in common with the early days of English laid-back culture and the glory days of the Italian ultra-movement, with masses of young people, heavily involved in football culture, attending matches in large numbers and producing elaborate choreography,” says Montague.

“Supporting football clubs is a way of life that has been widely embraced in Indonesia. But over the years it has also become one of the most violent places to watch football, with more than 80 deaths in the football stadiums over the past two decades.”

Brändle adds that a “lack of modern surveillance infrastructure” and “uncoordinated authorities” mean that few violent football fans are brought to justice.

Police and soldiers stand amid tear gas smoke during a football match at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, Indonesia, Saturday, October 1, 2022

‘A silly response’: Police’s indiscriminate use of tear gas only made the situation worse

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According to Montague, however, the violence in Indonesia is not limited to football fans, but extends to the police, whom he accuses of a “dumb response”.

“Police are not equipped or qualified to deal with crowds in any way, so they resort to brutal violence and archaic crowd control, as we have seen here,” he says.

Indeed, video footage from Kanjuruhan Stadium shows police officers, visible through clouds of tear gas, indiscriminately hitting with batons, while one officer in particular can be seen kicking. behind the backs of at least four people as they leave the field.

“Obviously the fans took to the pitch but it was a manageable situation, until the police poured petrol on the fire firing tear gas in quantities I had never seen before, quantities that sting, suffocate and create mass panic.”

“Anyone who knows anything about crowd control in football knows that if you fire tear gas into a confined space, as it appears they did, it will result in fatalities.”

Montague and Brändle agree that the policing approach and the relationship of Indonesians with the police can be traced back to experiences under the Sukarno and Suharto dictatorships of the second half of the 20th century.

“Trust in the state is low and anti-authoritarian views are widespread,” writes Brändle for SRF.

This photo shows a burnt-out car outside Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java on October 2, 2022.

Most fans traveled to the match by car, many of whom may have hampered evacuation attempts

Decrepit stadiums and facilities

Finally, the propensity of fans and police to resort to violence was compounded by the fact that it all took place in a stadium which, like many in Indonesia, is not fit for purpose.

Despite an official capacity of 38,000, Indonesia’s security minister claimed that at least 42,000 people were inside Kanjuruhan Stadium.

“Uncoordinated entry procedures and a burgeoning black market lead to unclear situations,” writes Brändle. “And in the case of Kanjuruhan Stadium, many evacuation routes are blocked by vehicles because the stadium is located in the small town of Kepanjen, which requires most fans to travel [almost 20 kilometers (12 miles)] from nearby Malang by car.”

Montague remembers arriving at games in Indonesia where thousands of fans are funneled through narrow catwalks, leading to crushes among “decrepit facilities” in “old stadiums”.

Brändle confirms: “In addition to narrow and insufficient entrances, standard security features such as capacity restrictions, block separation and crush barriers are often lacking. In addition, fences are often topped with barbed wire, which which makes a rapid evacuation on the ground impossible.”

Montague concludes that, while violence and even fatalities in Indonesian football are not uncommon, the events at Kanjuruhan Stadium on Saturday night represented “a complete breakdown that was bound to happen sooner or later”.

Edited by Jessie Wingard

James R. Rhodes