Indonesian Soccer Disaster


Photo by Yudha Prabowo/AP

Kevin Han

Tragedy struck a soccer stadium in Indonesia on October 1st, 2022, where more than 125 died, and at least 300 were injured. 

Arema FC fans (one of Indonesia’s biggest teams) and supporters of Persebaya Surabaya (the rival of Arema FC) excitedly watched the soccer game in the Kanjuruhan Stadium; it is used mainly for soccer matches, with its total capacity estimated at 38,000 spectators. However, this match had 42,000 tickets sold, leading to an overcrowded stadium. 

When Arema FC lost in their home field 3 – 2 in Persebaya Surbaya’s favor, fans of the team started to express their disappointment. According to ESPN, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, “thousands of supporters of Arema, known as ‘Aremania,’ reacted by throwing bottles and other objects at players and soccer officials,” disappointed by their team’s loss. Many fans invaded the field, leading to fights on the field while many bystanders watched in their seats. 

The riot led to police involvement, which escalated the situation and harmed the spectators in the stadium. Due to the unrest and dangerousness of the riot, police fired tear gas, which caused the panic to grow. This led to thousands rushing towards the exit to escape the tear gas. According to Inspector General Nico Afinta, the East Java Police chief.

During this chaos, at least 34 died, with many more dying on the way to the hospital. One of the spectators who got caught in the tear gas stated that he “felt hot and stinging in my eyes, I couldn’t see clearly while my head was dizzy and everything went dark. … I passed out.” When he came to, he was already in the emergency room, with the news that his cousin was already dead from head injuries. The spectator, who goes by Rizky, commented, “we wanted to entertain ourselves by watching a football match, but we got disaster.”

According to another witness, Ahmad Fatoni, “officers fired tear gas directly at spectators in the stands, forcing us to run toward the exit… Many victims fell because of shortness of breath and difficulty seeing due to tear gas and were trampled.”

Other witnesses claim that the police beat the crowd with sticks and shields before shooting canisters (containing tear gas) directly into the crowd. 

“The excessive use of force through the use of tear gas and inappropriate crowd control was the cause of the large number of fatalities,” Indonesia’s Legal Aid Foundation said in a statement, disapproving of the police force’s use of projectiles.

Many experts also question the use of tear gas, which is especially dangerous in an overcrowded stadium. Veronica Koman, a human rights activist, of Amnesty International commented, “tear gas is illegal in warfare – but why is it still legal for domestic use?”

The Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) suspended matches next week due to the disaster and banned Arema FC from playing for the rest of the season. 

“I regret that this tragedy occurred,” the President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, said. “And I hope this is the last football tragedy in the country.”