Indonesian police: Narrow stadium gates slowed people fleeing deadly football stampede

Tria Dianti
Indonesian police: Narrow stadium gates slowed people fleeing deadly football stampede People pray outside an entrance gate to pay condolences to the victims of a stampede at a football match at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, Indonesia, Oct. 4, 2022.
[Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]

Narrow gates slowed hundreds of people as they fled a stampede that left more 130 dead after officers fired tear gas during a weekend melee at a football stadium, a spokesman for the Indonesian national police said Tuesday.

In responding to reporters’ questions about whether gates at the Kanjuruham Stadium in Malang city, East Java, were locked after a match on Saturday night, police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said a half dozen of the gates were open but not wide enough to allow large numbers of people to exit at once.

The tragedy was one of the world’s deadliest sports disasters.

“The six doors were not closed but they were very narrow and could only allow two people [at a time to go through] when hundreds were jostling,” Dedi told reporters, adding that 29 people had been questioned, including 23 police, and organizers.

“This is being investigated. We will name suspects soon,” Dedi said.

But a spectator, Wijaya Andrianto, who said his uncle and 13-year-old cousin were killed in the melee, disputed the police’s assertion. He said at least one gate had been shut.

“Tear gas was fired into the stands where I was sitting, so we immediately ran to get out,” the 25-year-old told BenarNews.

“I managed to get out after the door [gate] was broken down by thousands of people who were scrambling,” he said.

Other witnesses, too, had said that some gates were locked after the match was over, even though they were supposed to be opened 15 minutes before the final whistle.

The stampede occurred when security personnel fired tear gas to disperse spectators who invaded the pitch after a league match between host club Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya. Smoke from the tear gas sent many of the estimated 40,000 spectators scrambling to the exit gates, causing the stampede.

Many Arema fans said they were not attacking rival fans, as Persebaya supporters were not allowed into the stadium given the fierce rivalry between the two clubs. They were venting anger at their own players who lost to Persebaya at home for the first time in 23 years.

Additionally, a member of the National Police Commission, a police oversight body, agreed with critics that tear gas should not have been used to clear Arema fans.

“Based on the facts gathered on the ground, the action of police was not the result of an order from their commanders. There were no instructions to fire tear gas but someone personnel did it,” Albertus Wahyurudhanto told BenarNews.

Some 133 people died in the incident, according to the latest figures released by the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, citing data from the Malang administration.

Among those killed were 37 minors aged between 3 and 17, the ministry said. More than 300 people were injured, local authorities said.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) announced that it had banned two Arema officials from the sport for life for failing to anticipate the rowdy behavior of the fans.

Abdul Haris, the chief match organizer, and security coordinator Suko Sutrisno “will not be allowed to work or engage in professional football for life,” said Erwin Tobing, member of the PSSI discipline commission.

A man throws petals at gate 13 Kanjuruhan Stadium as he pays his condolences to the victims of a stampede following a weekend soccer match in Malang, East Java province, Indonesia, Oct. 4, 2022. [Ari Bowo Sucipto /Antara Foto via Reuters]

The PSSI also fined the club 250 million rupiah (U.S. $16,400 dollars) and banned it from hosting matches for the remainder of the season.  

Indonesian officials had already suspended all league matches indefinitely and promised victims free medical treatment along with government aid.

On Monday, the national police fired the Malang regency police chief and suspended nine commanding officers for their alleged roles in the stampede.

The government also set up an independent team to investigate the incident.

Football is Indonesia’s most popular sport, and matches are often marred by violence, especially among fans of the Surabaya, Jakarta and Bandung clubs.

Watchdog group Save Our Soccer said at least 78 people had died during brawls between rival supporters since the Indonesian league in the current form was introduced in 1994.

Corruption, match-fixing and feuds within the sport’s national governing body, PSSI, are among scandals that have beset Indonesian football in recent years.

But these, and Indonesia’s perennial underachievement in international competitions beyond Southeast Asia have not dented fans’ enthusiasm for the sport, with league and the national team’s matches played in packed stadiums. 


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