Deadly Stadium Crush in Indonesia Spotlights Police Response

More than 130 people were killed in a stampede following a soccer match at Kanjuruhan Stadium in East Java, Indonesia, in what has become Asia’s worst stadium disaster. The October 1 tragedy occurred at the end of a soccer match in Indonesia’s top division when fans upset at the match’s result stormed the pitch. Reports vary as to whether some pitch invaders attacked players and team representatives. Police responded to the incursion by firing tear gas at fans to prevent other fans from flooding the field, and the ensuing stampede to avoid the choking and blinding gas resulted in fans being crushed at locked exits.

Not the first stadium disaster . . .

While the Kanjuruhan Stadium disaster is Asia’s worst, other high-profile stadium disasters have also led to a loss of life and major revisions of stadium safety policies globally. In 1964, more than 300 spectators were killed in the Estadio Nacional disaster in Lima, Peru, when, like the events at Kanjuruhan Stadium, police used tear gas to disperse a large pitch invasion. In 1989, a crush of spectators in an overcrowded standing-room-only section of the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, resulted in 97 spectators losing their lives and more than 760 injuries. The review of policing and stadium security that followed was primarily responsible for stadiums with standing-room-only sections converted to all-seater stadiums in many parts of the world.

Focus on police actions . . .

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has ordered a safety audit of all stadiums that host matches in the country’s top soccer leagues to be concluded within a month. In addition to questions of stadium safety, including why stadium gates were locked, much attention is focused on the police’s role in the disaster, particularly the use of tear gas. Authorities reported that up to 2,000 police and military personnel were at the stadium for the match attended by some 42,000 spectators, and video shows riot police beating spectators on the pitch. Spectator violence and aggressive police responses are not new to soccer in Indonesia, and the tragedy at Kanjuruhan Stadium is causing many observers to question whether Indonesia will be allowed to continue as host of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup next year.