Indonesian football faces a turning point after the stadium disaster

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Malang (Indonesia) (AFP) – The deadly stampede at an Indonesian soccer stadium has shaken the foundation of the country’s most popular sport and was the culmination of decades of mismanagement and violence, experts say.

The tragedy a week ago that killed 131 people, including 32 children, after a top-flight match has forced officials and fans to confront the flaws in every aspect of the game in the country.

Indonesian soccer experts speak of unstable infrastructure, mismanagement, hours-long waits to vacate outdated stadiums and the possibility of heated passions turning into violence that has killed dozens since the 1990s.

“This is a wake-up call, one that has cost us a lot,” Indonesian soccer commentator Mohamad Kusnaeni told AFP.

President Joko Widodo visited the scene of the tragedy on Wednesday, ordering an audit of all stadiums and saying the country’s 78,000-seat national stadium in Jakarta is the standard he expects in the 18-team league.

The gates of the 42,000-capacity Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, were large enough to fit only two people at a time and some were not opened on time, authorities said.

“You could see and feel that something bad could happen,” Indonesian soccer expert Pangeran Siahaan told AFP.

“There are many dangers every time you enter a football stadium in Indonesia.”

Many stadiums in Indonesia do not meet international standards for hosting sporting events, Kusnaeni said.

Some don’t have individual seats, but rather benches that allow more people to stand and huddle together, while making it harder for security to spot a threatening incident before it happens.

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Widodo said that the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium sitting in Jakarta allowed all spectators to exit safely within 15 minutes, and that all stadiums should be online.

President Joko Widodo visited the site of the tragedy on Wednesday and ordered an audit of all stadiums.
President Joko Widodo visited the site of the tragedy on Wednesday and ordered an audit of all stadiums. JUNI KRISWANTO AFP

“We must learn from it. Minor punishments have made football scene negligence happen repeatedly,” said Akmal Marhali, coordinator of soccer watchdog Save Our Soccer and a member of the disaster investigation task force.

“There has to be progressive change and steps that turn the page.”

Stricter measures, such as a club ban from the Indonesian football association, or PSSI, could help ensure better safety and conduct for fans.

Inspired by Italian ultras

Preventive measures were put in place before the match “because of the intense rivalry and… spectator culture,” PSSI deputy general secretary Maike Ira Puspita told AFP, refusing to discuss police conduct.

Persebaya Surabaya fans were banned from the stadium due to fears of fan violence led by die-hard “ultra” fans.

But when Arema FC supporters, known as “Aremania”, flooded the pitch to express their anger at the home team, a chain of events was set off made worse by a violent police response that sparked a stampede that left many trampled or suffocated. to death. .

Supporters said they were not to blame for what happened after Arema’s first loss at home to their fiercest rivals in more than two decades.

It was Arema's first home loss to bitter rivals Persebaya Surabaya in more than two decades.
It was Arema’s first home loss to bitter rivals Persebaya Surabaya in more than two decades. STR AFP

The national police appeared to blame “lawless” fans before suspending nine officers and firing the local police chief.

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The disaster has put the spotlight on Indonesia’s “ultra” groups, which can almost resemble battle-trained militias, listening in uniform to anointed commanders cheering them on with megaphones.

Groups from this subculture, such as the Curva Nord Persija in Jakarta, engage in organized chants and choreographed visual displays inspired by Italian ultras.

Players travel in armored vehicles to away games and away fans are now barred from taking part in big derbies because home team hooligans have in some cases lurked on the roads with guns to attack their opponents’ coaches. .

Some fans wear T-shirts with the slogan “sampai mati”, or until death. In some cases, mobs have beaten rival fans to death.

‘God’s Intervention’

Deadly stampede in Indonesia
Deadly stampede in Indonesia Emmanuelle MICHEL AFP

Experts say that the bad blood between Arema and Persebaya Surabaya has to do with the rivalry between the two largest cities in East Java, Malang and Surabaya.

But there is a glimmer of hope that something good can come out of one of the worst disasters in football history.

“This is the push for all fans to realize that football is about supporting your favorite team and not about hating the opposing team,” commentator Kusnaeni said.

“The fans must change their philosophy.”

The owners of Persebaya Surabaya and Arema have reached out to discuss the rivalry. Fan representatives also gathered.

“Perhaps this is God’s intervention to unite the Arema supporters with Persebaya,” Danny Agung Prasetyo, coordinator of the Arema DC supporter group, told AFP.

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