Indonesia football disaster leaves 125 dead as fans storm pitch at Arema v Persebaya match

Tragedy on Saturday night in Malang is one of the world's deadliest sporting stadium disasters

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At least 125 people were killed and scores were injured at a football stadium in Indonesia after thousands of fans invaded the pitch and police fired teargas that caused a panic, authorities said on Sunday.

The tragedy on Saturday night in the eastern city of Malang is one of the world's deadliest sporting stadium disasters. Indonesian officials initially reported that 174 people had died but later revised the death toll to 125, saying some victims were counted twice.

Arema FC supporters at the Kanjuruhan Stadium took to the pitch late on Saturday after their team lost 3-2 to visitors and bitter rivals, Persebaya Surabaya.

Police, who described the unrest as rioting, said they tried to persuade fans to return to the stands and fired teargas after two officers were killed. Many of the victims were trampled or choked to death, according to police.

The use of teargas in stadiums is banned by Fifa, football's world governing body.

East Java police chief Nico Afinta said many people were crushed and suffocated when they ran to one exit.

East Java’s Vice Governor Emil Dardak told Kompas TV in an interview that more than 100 injured people were receiving intensive care treatment in eight hospitals without any charge, 11 of them in critical condition.

A hospital director told local television station that one of the victims was five years old.

Images captured from inside the stadium showed huge clouds of tear gas and people clambering over fences.

People were carrying injured spectators through the chaos. Video footage circulating on social media showed people shouting obscenities at riot police.

The stadium holds 42,000 people and authorities said it was a sell-out. Police said 3,000 people stormed the pitch.

“We would like to convey that … not all of them were anarchic. Only about 3,000 who entered the pitch,” Mr Afinta said.

Burnt-out vehicles, including a police van, littered the streets outside the stadium on Sunday morning. Police said 13 vehicles in total were damaged.

The Indonesian government apologised for the incident and promised to investigate the circumstances surrounding it.

“This is a regrettable incident that injures our football at a time when supporters can watch football matches from the stadium,” Indonesian Sports and Youth Minister Zainudin Amali told broadcaster Kompas.

“We will thoroughly evaluate the organisation of the match and the attendance of supporters. Will we return to banning supporters from attending the matches? That is what we will discuss.”

Fan violence is an enduring problem in Indonesia, where great rivalries have turned into deadly confrontations.

Police officers and soldiers stand amid tear gas smoke after the match at Kanjuruhan Stadium. AP

Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya are longtime rivals. Persebaya Surabaya fans were not allowed to buy tickets for the game because of fears of violence.

However, Indonesia's Co-ordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Mahfud MD, said organisers ignored the recommendation of authorities to hold the match in the afternoon instead of the evening.

And he said the government had recommended 38,000 tickets be issued, but there was instead a sell-out crowd of 42,000.

“The government has made improvements to the implementation of football matches … and will continue to improve. But this sport, which is a favourite of the wider community, often provokes supporters to express emotions suddenly,” he said in an Instagram post.

The Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) suspended football matches of Indonesia's top league, BRI Liga 1, for one week.

Police cars and other vehicles were torched and damaged inside and outside Kanjuruhan Stadium. EPA

It also banned Arema FC from hosting home games for the rest of the season and said it would send an investigation team to Malang to establish the cause of the crush.

“We're sorry and apologise to families of the victims and all parties over the incident,” PSSI chairman Mochamad Iriawan said.

Indonesia is to host the Fifa Under-20 World Cup in May at six stadiums across the country. The Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang is not included in that list.

Other stadium disasters include a 1989 crush in the stands at England's Hillsborough Stadium, which led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans, and the 2012 Port Said stadium tragedy in Egypt where 74 people died in clashes.

In 1964, 320 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured during a stampede at a Peru-Argentina Olympic qualifier at Lima's National Stadium.

Updated: October 03, 2022, 4:19 AM