More than 100 Indonesian football fans die after tear gas stampede
Professional football is all too familiar with tragedies caused by extremist fans. Saturday’s disaster in the city of Malang in East Java, Indonesia after the match between Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya, was not one of those cases. Instead, the incompetence and blatant disregard for public safety by law enforcement led to the worst football disaster at more than 50 yards. A stampede, triggered by tear gas fired by authoritiesresulted in a catastrophic death toll of 131 and is continuing to rise, with the total number of injured being over 300.
Prior to Saturday’s 3-2 win over Persebaya, Arema’s side had won 23 in a row at home against their opponents. After Arema FC’s goal, angry fans threw bullets and stormed into the field. In a completely misguided attempt to disperse the crowd, law enforcement escalated the situation by indiscriminately releasing tear gas into the stands. Video of tear gas billowing across the stadium illustrates the excessive release of the vapor by law enforcement. That reckless choice created the conditions for an unimaginable tragedy.
Even FIFA, not the model of virtue or capacity, was wise to the risk of firing tear gas into large crowds. FIFA regulations state that “crowd control gas” may not be carried or used by managers or police at matches. FIFA specifically banned the use of tear gas in part because it exacerbated a longstanding predicament. Tear gas itself causes blurred vision and inhibits the breathing and swallowing functions of anyone who inhales the gas. The adrenaline factor, as well as thousands of high-energy fans, panicking, and the indiscriminate use of tear gas is an obvious recipe for disaster.
The aftermath of Saturday’s stampede reflects the most devastating football disaster of the 20th century when more than 300 spectators were killed in Lima, Peru in 1964, after police responded to fans storming the field. with tear gas. During Peru’s Estadio Nacional disaster, hundreds of people died of suffocation, a combination of aspiration and being pressed against the gates while trying to exit the stadium. Instead of dispersing the crowd in that case, it killed spectators as they crammed into blocked exits, where hundreds of people lost their lives.
Similar incidents where tear gas was used also lead to panic, confusion and, predictable, dozens of deaths from trampling and suffocation in the rising dense crowd.
The UK Inquiry into Hillsborough tragedy in 1989 in Sheffield, England, found that a form of “compression asphyxiation” and “aspiration of gastric contents” were listed as the underlying causes of the majority of the 97 deaths. Saturday’s avoidable tragedy isn’t going away anytime soon, and scrutiny has already been made Location of Indonesia as the host of the FIFA U-20 Men’s World Cup. Indonesian President Joko Widodo also addressed the nation in a televised address, ordering security checks at football matches, and asked the sheriff to investigate the disaster.
“I regret this tragedy and hope that it will be the last to happen to Indonesian football. We can’t have any more [of this] Future,” Widodo added.