Soccer stadium crush in Indonesia leaves 125 dead as president orders investigation

Police firing tear gas after an Indonesian soccer match in an attempt to stop violence triggered a disastrous crush of fans making a panicked, chaotic run for the exits, leaving at least 125 people dead, most of them trampled upon or suffocated.

Victims trampled after police attempted to dispel riots with tear gas

Over 120 killed in Indonesia soccer stadium stampede

2 months ago
Duration 2:04
Police in Indonesia are facing questions about their tactics after they fired tear gas inside a soccer stadium, sparking a stampede that left more than 120 dead and hundreds of others injured.

Police firing tear gas after an Indonesian soccer match in an attempt to stop violence triggered a disastrous crush of fans making a panicked, chaotic run for the exits, leaving at least 125 people dead, most of them trampled upon or suffocated.

Attention immediately focused on police crowd-control measures at Saturday night's match between host Arema FC of East Java's Malang city and Persebaya Surabaya. Witnesses described officers beating them with sticks and shields before shooting tear gas canisters into the crowd at Kanjuruhan Stadium.

East Java deputy governor Emil Dardak initially put the number of dead at 174. He later revised the number downward, citing data cross-checked from 10 hospitals in the area. The earlier figure may have included duplicate fatalities, he said.

The number of injured was 323, said Wiyanto Wijoyo, the head of Malang's health agency.

It was among the deadliest disasters ever at a sporting event. President Joko Widodo ordered an investigation of security procedures, and the president of FIFA called the deaths "a dark day for all involved in football and a tragedy beyond comprehension." While FIFA has no control over domestic games, it has advised against the use of tear gas at soccer stadiums.

Brawls are common among rival Indonesian soccer fans, so much so that the organizer had banned Persebaya supporters from Arema's stadium. But violence still broke out when the home team lost 3-2 and some of the 42,000 Arema fans, known as "Aremania," threw bottles and other objects at players and soccer officials.

Witnesses said fans flooded the Kanjuruhan Stadium pitch and demanded that Arema management explain why, after 23 years of undefeated home matches against rival Persebaya, this one ended in a loss.

The violence spread outside the stadium, where at least five police vehicles were toppled and set ablaze. Riot police responded by firing tear gas, including toward the stadium's stands, causing panic among the crowd.

More than 300 rushed to hospital

Some suffocated and others were trampled as hundreds of people ran to the exit to avoid the tear gas. In the chaos, 34 died at the stadium, including two officers, and some reports include children among the casualties.

East Java police chief Nico Afinta defended the use of tear gas.

"We have already done a preventive action before finally firing the tear gas as [fans] began to attack the police, acting anarchically and burning vehicles," he told a news conference early Sunday.

More than 300 were rushed to hospitals, but many died on the way and during a treatment, Afinta said.

Security personnel, lower, are shown on the pitch after a soccer match between Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, Indonesia, on Saturday. More than 100 people died when fans invaded the pitch and police responded with tear gas, triggering a stampede, officials said. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

East Java's governor told Kompas TV that more than 100 of the injured people were receiving intensive treatment in eight hospitals, 11 of them in critical condition.

Indonesia's soccer association, known as PSSI, suspended the premier soccer league Liga 1 indefinitely in light of the tragedy and banned Arema from hosting soccer matches for the remainder of the season.

Television reports showed police and rescuers evacuating the injured and carrying the dead to ambulances.

President hopes this is country's last soccer tragedy

Grieving relatives waited for information about their loved ones at Malang's Saiful Anwar General Hospital. Others tried to identify the bodies laid at a morgue while medical workers put identification tags on the bodies of the victims.

"I deeply regret this tragedy and I hope this is the last soccer tragedy in this country. Don't let another human tragedy like this happen in the future," Widodo said in a televised speech. "We must continue to maintain sportsmanship, humanity and a sense of brotherhood of the Indonesian nation."

A pair of sneakers in the stands of Kanjuruhan Stadium on Sunday, the day after the stampede. (Hendra Permana/The Associated Press)

He ordered the youth and sports minister, the national police chief and the PSSI chair to conduct a thorough evaluation of the country's soccer and its security procedure.

Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali also expressed his regrets that "this tragedy happened when we were preparing for soccer game activities, both national and international level."

Due to host U-20 World Cup

Indonesia is due to host the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup from May 20 to June 11, with 24 participating teams. As the host, the country automatically qualifies for the cup.

"Unfortunately, this incident has certainly injured our soccer image," Amali said.

In a statement, FIFA president Gianni Infantino expressed condolences on behalf of the global soccer community, saying "the football world is in a state of shock." The statement did not mention the use of tear gas.

Ferli Hidayat, local police chief of Malang, said there were some 42,000 spectators at the game on Saturday, all of whom were Arema supporters because of the ban on Persebaya fans at the stadium.

A torched car is shown outside Kanjuruhan Stadium on Sunday morning. (Putri /AFP/Getty Images)

The restriction was imposed after clashes between supporters of the two rival teams in East Java's Blitar stadium in February 2020 caused 250 million rupiah ($18,000 US) in damage. Brawls were reported outside the stadium during and after the semifinals of the East Java Governor's Cup, which ended with Persebaya beating Arema 4-2.

Rights groups responded to the tragedy by blaming the use of tear gas in the stadium by police.

Citing FIFA's stadium safety guidelines that prohibit the carrying or use of "crowd control gas" by pitch-side stewards or police, Amnesty International called on Indonesian authorities to conduct a swift, thorough and independent investigation into the use of tear gas and ensure that those who are found to have committed violations are tried in open court and do not merely receive internal or administrative sanctions.

Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said tear gas should only be used to disperse crowds when widespread violence has occurred and when other methods have failed. People must be warned that tear gas will be used and be allowed to disperse. "No one should lose their lives at a football match," Hamid said.

Hundreds of soccer fans, mostly wearing black shirts, held a candlelight vigil on Sunday night at Gelora Bung Karno, Indonesia's largest sports stadium, in the capital, Jakarta, for the victims of the disaster. They sang songs they composed to lift the spirits of the grieving Aremanias.

People storm the pitch at the soccer match at Kanjuruhan Stadium on Saturday. (Yudha Prabowo/The Associated Press)

Hooliganism is rife in the soccer-obsessed country where fanaticism often ends in violence. In 2018, a Persija Jakarta supporter was killed by a mob of hardcore fans of rival club Persib Bandung.

Saturday's game is already among the world's worst crowd disasters, including the 1996 World Cup qualifier between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City, where more than 80 died and over 100 more were injured. In South Africa in April 2001, more than 40 people were crushed to death during a soccer match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

With files from Reuters