Stadium riots in Indonesia: the inevitable disaster | Sports | DW

Indonesia |  Riots at Kanjuruhan Stadium

It was scheduled as a top game and ended in disaster: According to the Indonesian police, serious riots broke out after the game between Arema Malang and Persebaya Surabaya at least 125 people about life. After a storm of spectators, the police responded with massive use of tear gas. There was a mass panic in which spectators and police officers lost their lives.

It is the largest stadium disaster in Indonesian history and the third largest in football history worldwide. As of now, one less person died in the riots than in the stadium tragedy in Ghana’s capital Accra in 2001 with 126 deaths and in what was by far the worst stadium disaster in history in 1964 in the Estadio Nacional in Peru’s capital Lima, when the official Information 328 people died.

Play in Indonesia’s top division has been suspended with immediate effect, Arema Malang has been suspended from home games until the end of the season and the Indonesian football association PSSI has launched an investigation into the disaster. For connoisseurs of Indonesian football, however, this catastrophe does not come as a complete surprise. “Poor organization, catastrophic infrastructure, miserable police work and a culture of violence in parts of the fan scenes – it was a catastrophe with an announcement,” said British fan expert James Montague, who researched his book “1312: Among Ultras” with Indonesian fan groups was on the move, DW.

Spectators flock to the Kanjuruhan Stadium after the game as the disaster unfolds

A catastrophe begins: spectators storm the interior of Kanjuruhan Stadium

Author Andrin Brändle from Switzerland, who accompanied the Indonesian club PSS Sleman for his book “A Summer with Sleman”, assesses the events in a similar way. In an article on, he cites the “sub-optimal infrastructure”, a “lack of coordination between the security forces” and an “incredible momentum in the stands” as the reasons for the catastrophe in the Kanjuruhan stadium.

Vibrant and violent fan culture

Indonesia has one of the liveliest and strongest fan cultures in Southeast Asia. High audience numbers and great rivalries are just as much a part of it as violence. The Arema Malang-Persebaya Surabaya clash is the most significant game in the country after the game between Persib Bandung and Persija Jakarta that was due to take place on Sunday.

But the Indonesian “El Clasico” didn’t happen, not after the pitch storm and the disaster after the “East Java Derby”. According to James Montague, violence is “not uncommon”. For example, coaches would be attacked by fans after defeats. “You see that a lot,” the fan expert told DW. Despite the absence of away fans, who are generally not allowed in Indonesia’s heated derbies, disaster struck. After the late 3-2 defeat, the home Arema fans broke into the stadium to speak to their own team before the situation escalated with the arrival of the riot police.

Police officers armed with batons stand between clouds of tear gas on the lawn of Kanjuruhan Stadium

Police officers armed with batons and tear gas: the violence also escalated on the part of the security forces

“There’s an incredible fan culture in Indonesia that has a lot in common with the beginnings of English fan culture and the beginnings of the Italian ultra movement,” explains Montague. “It’s a way of life that has been fully adopted in Indonesia.” But in Indonesia, violence in the context of football has continued to increase. According to Montague, there have been “over 80 deaths in soccer stadiums” in Indonesia in the last few decades.

Brutal police violence

According to Montague, however, violence in Indonesia is not an exclusive phenomenon among football fans, but also affects the police, whom he accuses of an “idiotic reaction”. “Police aren’t equipped or trained to deal with crowds, so they resort to brute force and archaic crowd control, as we’ve seen here.”

Videos filmed from the tiers of spectators at Kanjuruhan Stadium show police officers indiscriminately beating people with batons amid clouds of tear gas, and at least four people deliberately kicking in the back. “The situation was manageable until the police poured gas on the fire by firing tear gas in quantities that I have not seen before,” said Montague, who sees this as the decisive factor in the stampede. “Anyone familiar with controlling football players knows that using tear gas in a confined space like this will result in fatalities.” .

“Sooner or later inevitable”

Add to that the condition of most stadiums in Indonesia. The dilapidated buildings are no longer suitable for games with large crowds of fans – including the Kanjuruhan Stadium with its official capacity of 38,000 spectators. According to Indonesian authorities, however, a total of around 42,000 spectators were in the stadium when the disaster took its course.

Evidence of the disaster: a burned-out police vehicle near the stadium

Evidence of the disaster: a burned-out police vehicle near the stadium

Andrin Brändle writes, “Uncoordinated admission procedures and the booming black market lead to confusing situations.” At the Kanjuruhan stadium, evacuation routes were blocked by vehicles “because the stadium is in the small town of Kepanj, so most fans have to travel by car from nearby Malang”.

In addition, according to James Montague, “thousands of fans are led through narrow entry gates” upon arrival at the stadium. “In addition to narrow and inadequate entrances, the usual security elements such as capacity restrictions, block separation and barriers are often missing,” describes Brändle. In addition, fences are often provided with barbed wire, “which makes a quick evacuation to the field impossible”.

According to James Montague, violence and even deaths “are not uncommon in Indonesian football”, but from the fan expert’s point of view the tragic events at Kanjuruhan Stadium represent “a complete collapse” that “sooner or later was inevitable”.

Adapted from the English by David Vorholt


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here