JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network): As the trial continues in the criminal negligence case in regard to Indonesia’s deadliest sporting tragedy, we call for a fair and transparent due process.
In one of the worst tragedies in recent memory, 135 people died in a stampede that occurred after a match between home team Arema FC and archrival Persebaya Surabaya at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, on Oct 1, 2022.
There are people who lost parents, children, friends and relatives who went to watch a soccer game that evening but never returned alive. Of the fatalities in the tragedy, 33 were children.
A government-sanctioned fact-finding team tasked with investigating the deadly stampede has confirmed what many suggested immediately after the disaster occurred: It was mainly triggered by the unwarranted use of tear gas by the police.
It was perhaps a foregone conclusion as independent investigations by human rights organisations and media outlets such as The Washington Post, DetikX and NarasiTV released damning visual evidence showing the culpability of the security personnel in the incident.
The police are believed to have fired between 40 and 80 rounds of tear gas into the stand, triggering a panicked response from the Arema FC supporters that led to a crush and eventually the horrifying deaths.
People in the country and around the world were left confounded and angry as they questioned safety provisions and the use of tear gas, a crowd-control measure banned by world soccer governing body Fifa.
The police initially blamed hooliganism for the tragedy, framing it as a deadly riot, not a stampede. They also blamed the organisers for rejecting their suggestion not to hold the match in the evening, before eventually pointing their finger at locked exit gates as the main culprit.
While these factors did play roles in the tragedy, they could not, as Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said in the government report, "diminish the conclusion that the massive [number of] deaths was mainly caused by [the use of] tear gas."
The investigators also concluded that the Indonesian Soccer Association (PSSI) had been negligent by ignoring regulations and called for the resignation of its chairman and executive committee. None has heeded the call, perhaps because defying the recommendations has no legal consequences.
As the nation was focusing on the investigation into the possible causes of the tragedy, the premier professional league, Liga 1, was suspended. The competition resumed in December. Several weeks later, new security measures were tested out as the Indonesian men’s soccer team played in front of a home crowd.
The Kanjuruhan tragedy put Indonesia’s preparations to host of the Under-20 World Cup in May in doubt, but Fifa president Gianni Infantino quashed such concerns during his visit to the country.
Many tragedies have occurred in the past, but Indonesia seems too eager to let bygones be bygones to our own detriment. We tend to turn the pages on nightmarish events too quickly, without ever acknowledging and resolving the root causes, until history repeats itself. Too often we have failed to learn from our mistakes.
Five people are standing trial for the Kanjuruhan Stadium disaster under the public’s close watch. The ball is in in the panel of judges’ court whether justice will be served. It is not too much to expect the tragedy to prompt reform in the country’s soccer governance and development. We owe it to all the victims.