What should have been a party night during an Indonesian soccer match on Saturday night has turned into pure chaos.
A derby between Persebaya Surabaya and Arema FC ended in violence, tear gas and death.
Persebaya Surabaya was at Arema’s home on Saturday for the derby.
The organizers locked up the visitors’ supporters to avoid fights and filled the entire stadium with Arema fans: 42,000 of them.
The match ended with a 2-3 defeat in favor of the visitors, fueling the fury of the spectators who flocked to the field.
The situation escalated, and fans threw objects at players and officials and demanded answers.
Violence escalated and five police cars were overturned, set on fire and damaged.
Riot police responded to the situation with tear gas, which FIFA has banned from soccer stadiums.
The action only caused panic, and hundreds of spectators rushed to the nearest exit door to avoid the tear gas.
The situation triggered a stampede in which 34 people were almost immediately trampled to death or suffocated.
The stampede was responsible for only a small fraction of the game’s casualties.
At least 174 people were killed, including children and two police officers, and another 180 were injured, police said.
They also said that if several people are in critical condition, the death toll will most likely rise.
Save Our Soccer, an Indonesian soccer watchdog, has provided data showing that at least 86 soccer fans have died since 1995, most of them in brawls.
Soccer brawls in Indonesia
Soccer is the most popular sport in Indonesia and fans feel very connected to their clubs.
Sometimes fanaticism leads to violence and vandalism, often outside the stadium.
One of the most popular matchups is between Persija Jakarta and Persib Bandung.
The club’s fans have faced off against each other in several matches over the years, sometimes resulting in death.
In 2018, Persib Bandung fans beat a Persija Jakarta supporter to death. On the international stage, the aggression is equally strong.
In the 2019 qualifiers for the upcoming FIFA World Cup, clashes erupted between supporters of historic rivals Indonesia and Malaysia.
In September 2019, Malaysian fans were threatened and thrown with bullets during a game in Jakarta.
The visiting Malaysian Minister of Sports had to be evacuated from the stadium after the outbreak of violence.
In November 2019, fans launched rockets and bottles at another match in Kuala Lumpur.
In another game that year, after losing in the final of the Southeast Asian Under-22 Games in Vietnam, Indonesian fans began to insult, harass, and send death threats to Vietnamese players and their families.
In June 2022, two Persib Bandung fans died while trying to enter the stadium to watch the President Cup.
The already distraught fans became more aggressive when the officials on the ground refused to let them into the already packed stadium.
The government’s response
After the events, Indonesian President Joko Widodo expressed his deepest regret and ordered an investigation into the dead.
Widodo has also ordered the suspension of the soccer league until they conduct a safety reassessment and strengthen safety.
The president shared the hope that the tragedy would be the last soccer tragedy in the country.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian Football Association has banned Arema from organizing soccer matches for the rest of the season.
Human rights group Amnesty International has asked the country to investigate the use of tear gas in the stadium and ensure that those who break the rule are brought to justice.