- East Java stadium disaster apparently worst since 1964.
- Around 180 injured during crowd stampede.
- Police say they fired tear gas to control crowd.
MALANG, INDONESIA: At least 174 people were killed and 180 injured in a stampede and riot at a soccer match in Indonesia, officials said on Sunday, in one of the world’s worst stadium disasters.
When frustrated supporters of the losing home team invaded the pitch in Malang in the province of East Java late on Saturday, officers fired tear gas in an attempt to control the situation, triggering the stampede and cases of suffocation, East Java police chief Nico Afinta told reporters.
“It had gotten anarchic. They started attacking officers, they damaged cars,” Nico said, adding that the crush occurred when fans fled for an exit gate.
Video footage from local news channels showed fans streaming onto the pitch after Arema FC lost 3-2 to Persebaya Surabaya around 10pm (1500 GMT). Scuffles can be seen, with what appeared to be tear gas in the air.
The head of one of the hospitals in the area treating patients told Metro TV that some of the victims had sustained brain injuries and that the fatalities included a five-year-old child.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo said 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 to suspend all games in the Indonesian top league BRI Liga 1 until an investigation had been completed.
Tear gas rules, overcapacity
World soccer’s governing body 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.
FIFA has requested a report on the incident from Indonesia’s PSSI football association, and a PSSI team has been sent to Malang to investigate, PSSI secretary general Yunus Nusi told reporters.
Indonesia’s human rights commission also plans to investigate security at the ground, including the use of tear gas, its commissioner told Reuters.
Amnesty International Indonesia slammed the security measures, saying the “use of excessive force by the state … to contain or control such crowds cannot be justified at all”.
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.
Worst in half century
Financial aid would be given to the injured and the families of victims, East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa told reporters.
There have been outbreaks of trouble at matches in Indonesia before, with strong rivalries between clubs sometimes leading to violence among supporters.
Indonesia’s football scene has been blighted by hooliganism, heavy-handed policing and mismanagement, largely preventing the country of 275 million people who pack stadiums from harnessing its potential in the sport.
Zainudin Amali, Indonesia’s sports minister, told KompasTV the ministry would re-evaluate safety at football matches, including considering not allowing spectators in stadiums.
The Malang stadium disaster appeared to be the deadliest since 1964, when 328 people were reported dead in a riot and crush when Peru hosted Argentine at the Estadio Nacional.
In an infamous 1989 British disaster, 96 Liverpool supporters were crushed to death when an overcrowded and fenced-in enclosure collapsed at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield.
Indonesia is scheduled 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, the continent’s equivalent of the Euros, after China pulled out as hosts.
The head of the Asian Football 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.