Winning the right to host next year’s U-20 World Cup was a major milestone in Indonesia’s football development, raising hopes that a successful tournament would fix long-standing problems that have blighted the sport in this country of 277 millions of inhabitants.
However, the death of at least 125 people in a league match between host Arema FC from East Java city Malang and Persebaya Surabaya on Saturday is a tragic reminder that Indonesia is one of the most dangerous countries to attend a match.
Remember that the FIFA U-20 World Cup will be in the global spotlight as the event will be joined by 24 countries from five continents, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said last month as he pressed for preparations for background for the tournament.
Since Saturday, the domestic league is suspended. Widodo has ordered the sports minister, the national police chief and the football federation to carry out a full investigation into the deadly crush at the stadium.
Indonesia was the first Asian team to play in a World Cup participating in 1938 as the Dutch East Indies, but despite an undoubted national passion for the sport, it has never returned to the world stage due to years of corruption, violence and mismanagement.
Data from Indonesian soccer watchdog Save Our Soccer showed that 78 people have been killed in game-related incidents in the past 28 years.
The defendants are often associated with groups of sympathizers who join clubs, with the largest having hundreds of thousands of members.
Arema’s intense rivalry with Surabaya meant that visiting fans were not allowed into the stadium at the weekend. However, violence erupted when the home team lost 3-2 and some of Arema’s 42,000 fans, known as Aremania, threw bottles and other objects at soccer players and officials.
Restrictions on away fans have also failed in the past. In 2016, despite Persib Bandung supporters being banned from a match with their bitter rival Persija Jakarta, they were blamed for the death of a Jakarta supporter.
A month earlier, a Persib supporter had been beaten to death by Jakarta supporters.
In 2018, local media reported a seventh death in six years related to Indonesia’s biggest football rivalry.
Soccer fans have accused security officials of being harsh in the past and over the weekend, with witnesses describing officers beating them with sticks and shields before firing tear gas canisters directly into the crowd.
In 2016, police were accused of killing a 16-year-old supporter, Muhammad Fahreza, in a match between Persija and Persela Lamongan, sparking mass demonstrations demanding an end to police brutality.
Police in charge of security violated FIFA stadium security and safety regulations, soccer analyst Akmal Marhali told Indonesian media on Sunday, referring to the use of tear gas against Malang fans who entered the stadium. field after the defeat of his team. That sparked a race for exits in a packed stadium.
The Indonesian Football Association may have been negligent in not informing the police that security procedures at a football match are not the same as at a rally.”
FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, advises against the use of tear gas in stadiums by on-field security or police who control and have responsibility for security operations.
Indonesia’s national football association, known locally as PSSI, has long struggled to administer the game on a national level.
In 2007, Nurdin Halid was jailed on corruption charges, but was able to continue as president of the organization until 2011. After Halid was barred from running for another term, a rival league, federation and national team emerged.
But the chaotic administration continued until FIFA suspended Indonesia in 2015, which was lifted the following year.
In 2019, when FIFA awarded Indonesia the hosting rights for the U-20 World Cup, it was seen as a vote of confidence.
In June, a FIFA panel inspected the country’s soccer facilities and the planning for the tournament from May 20 to June 11 and declared its satisfaction.
We are very happy to see the preparations in Indonesia, said Roberto Grassi, Director of FIFA Youth Tournaments. A lot of renovation work has already been done. We have had an encouraging visit and we trust the support of all the stakeholders involved.
Kanjuruhan Stadium, the site of Saturday’s disaster, is not among the six venues listed for the Under-20 World Cup, although the nearby Surabaya Stadium is scheduled to host matches.
FIFA has yet to comment on any potential impact on the U-20 World Cup, but the weekend tragedy is likely to hurt Indonesia’s bid to host the 2023 Asian Cup. It is in competition with South Korea and Qatar to become the host of the continental championship after China relinquished its stage rights in May.
Indonesia has already co-hosted the tournament, sharing the event in 2007 with Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam and hosting the final in Jakarta, where Iraq beat Saudi Arabia for the title.
That was the last time Indonesia hosted a major international soccer tournament. The Asian Football Confederation is expected to announce its decision on the 2023 tournament on October 17.
Football is unlikely to be played before then as the people of Indonesia and football fans around the world come to terms with one of the deadliest disasters in history at a sporting event.
Families and friends of some of those who died after the game cried in pain as the bodies of the victims were returned home on Monday.
Seventeen children were among the dead.
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