Lessons that we never learn from the past!
By:M Rajah

We’re sorry for this incident… this is a regrettable incident that injures our football at a time when supporters can watch football matches from the stadium. We will thoroughly evaluate the organisation of matches and the attendance of supporters. Will we return to banning supporters from attending the matches? That is what we will discuss.

Zainudin Amali,  Indonesian sports minister

We can’t say that nobody saw it coming.

Indonesian football is no stranger to violence at soccer stadiums. Violence among soccer-mad fans has long been a teething problem for Indonesian authorities. Bitter and very often violent – and at times deadly – rivalries between opposing team fans and supporters are common.

Vociferous fans often get emotional and hurl water bottles and even flares on the field and stadium officials often seek the presence of riot police at key matches. But sadly, their presence do not deter fans from turning violent.

Dozens of fans have been killed since the 1990s. But last Saturday’s Kanjuruhan Stadium horrifying carnage in Malang, East Java – where fights erupted between rival fans after the Indonesian Premier League game ended with Persebaya Surabaya beating Arema Malang 3-2, leaving 129 people, including two policemen dead – shocked the world. The social media enabled the whole world to witness footages of one of the worst stadium disasters.

The victims were mostly trampled to death; some suffocated in the chaos. East Java police chief Nico Afinta said 34 died almost instantly in the stadium while many died while being rushed to hospitals. Some died while under treatment.

But Afinta has more bad news. The death toll is likely to go up since many of the injured victims’ conditions are deteriorating.

Riot police had to resort to firing tear gas into the crowd of marauding rival fans which led to the stampede.

The fault could lie with the stadium officials for allowing the number of spectators to exceed the stadium capacity. Apparently 42,000 tickets were issued for a stadium that could only take in 38,000 fans. Officials never learn from past ‘mistakes’!

The Indonesian tragedy brings back memories of another major stadium disaster, the Heysel Stadium disaster of  May 29 1985. I am sure the incident which occurred 37 years ago is still fresh in the memories of Liverpool and Juventus fans.

In that incident, Juventus fans escaping Liverpool fans were pressed against a collapsing wall in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, before the start of the 1985 European Cup Final between the Italian and English clubs.

Thirty-nine fans were killed and 600 others injured. The authorities took a tough stand after the incident and several top officials, a police captain and 14 Liverpool fans were convicted of manslaughter. The Liverpool fans were each sentenced to six years’ jail.

And all English football clubs were banned indefinitely by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) from all European competitions. The ban was only lifted five years later in 1990. But the ‘culprits’ Liverpool were excluded for an additional one year.

One would have thought the tough action would have knocked some sense into soccer fans but it doesn’t seem to deter them.

Following the Kanjuruhan Stadium disaster, it’s possible that FIFA, the world governing body, might consider tough action against Indonesian football authorities to stamp out soccer violence.

The country is to host the FIFA Under-20 World Cup mid-next year. Indonesia is also one of three countries bidding to stage next year’s Asian Cup, after China pulled out as hosts.

The tragedy could have put paid to the Indonesia’s chances of hosting the Under-20 World Cup. But I believe FIFA will hear them out.

The Football Association of Indonesia in the meantime has taken action to suspend the Indonesian Premier League games for a week. And Sports Minister Zainudin Amali is considering not allowing spectators in stadiums which means matches will be played to an empty stadium.

I believe poor crowd control, overzealous policing and fan misbehaviour have all contributed to the Kanjuruhan Stadium tragedy. But we have to wait for Football Association of Indonesia to complete their investigation to determine the actual reasons behind the disaster. FIFA too might come in.

Meanwhile, let’s take a look at other major soccer stadium disasters:

February 2012, Egypt: Fans rioted at the end of a match between rivals Al-Masry and Al-Ahly in the city of Port Said. Seventy-three people were killed and more than 1,000 injured.

May 2001, Ghana: One hundred and twenty-six people were killed in a stampede at Accra’s main soccer stadium when police fired tear gas at rioting fans.

April 2001, South Africa: Forty-three people were crushed to death when soccer fans tried to force their way into Johannesburg’s huge Ellis Park Stadium midway through a top South African league match.

October 1996, Guatemala: Eighty people died and 147 were injured when fans tumbled down seats and stairs at a World Cup qualifying match between Guatemala and Costa Rica.

May 1992, France: A stand at Bastia’s Furiani Stadium collapsed before a French Cup semi-final against Olympique de Marseille, killing 18 and injuring more than 2,300.

January 1991, South Africa: Forty-two people died in a stampede during a pre-season game at the Oppenheimer Stadium in the mining town of Orkney between the Kaizer Chiefs and the Orlando Pirates.

April 1989, Britain: Ninety-six Liverpool supporters were crushed to death in an over-crowded Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield before an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

March 1988, Nepal: A stampede towards locked exits in a hailstorm at Nepal’s national soccer stadium in Kathmandu killed more than 90 fans.

October 1982, Russia: At least 66 fans were crushed as they left a UEFA Cup tie between Spartak Moscow and Dutch side HFC Haarlem at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune. 

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