What should have been a night of celebration at an Indonesian league football game on Saturday night turned into pure chaos.
A derby between Persebaya Surabaya and Arema FC ended in violence, tear gas and death.
Arema’s home ground on Saturday hosted Persebaya Surabaya for the derby.
The organizers locked away the visitors’ supporters to avoid fights and filled the whole stadium with Arema supporters—42,000 of them.
The match ended in a 2-3 loss for the home side, which angered spectators who flocked to the pitch.
The situation escalated, and fans threw objects at players and officials, demanding answers.
The violence increased 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 football stadiums.
The action only caused panic, and hundreds of spectators rushed to the nearest exit door to avoid tear gas.
The situation caused a stampede in which 34 people were trampled to death or suffocated almost instantly.
The rush only accounted for a small portion of the game’s fatalities.
At least 174 people were killed, including children and two police officers, and 180 others were injured, police said.
They also said that if several people are in critical condition, the death toll will most likely increase.
Save Our Soccer, an Indonesian football watchdog, has provided data showing that at least 86 football fans have died since 1995, most of them in battles.
Soccer brawls in Indonesia
Soccer is the most popular sport in Indonesia, and fans have a strong sense of loyalty to their clubs.
Sometimes fanaticism leads to violence and vandalism, often outside the stadium.
One of the most popular clashes is the one between Persija Jakarta and Persib Bandung.
Club fans have clashed in several matches over the years, sometimes resulting in death.
In 2018, Persib Bandung fans beat a supporter of Persija Jakarta to death. On the international stage, the aggression is equally strong.
In the 2019 qualifiers for the upcoming FIFA World Cup, fighting broke out 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 minister of sports from Malaysia had to be evacuated from the stadium after the outbreak of violence.
In November 2019, fans threw torches and bottles at each other at another match in Kuala Lumpur.
In another match that year, after losing in the final of the U-22 Southeast Asian 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 trying to enter the stadium to watch the President Cup.
The already upset supporters became more aggressive when officers on the ground did not allow them into the already full stadium.
The government’s reaction
Following the events, Indonesian President Joko Widodo expressed his deepest regret, ordering an inquest into the deaths.
Widodo also ordered the suspension of the football league until it conducts a safety reassessment and tightens security.
The president shared the hope that the tragedy would be the last football tragedy in the country.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian Football Association banned Arema from hosting football matches for the rest of the season.
Human rights group Amnesty International has called on the country to investigate the use of tear gas at the stadium and ensure those who break the rule are brought to justice.