October 12, 2022
JAKARTA – After a tense week of anticipating the worst-case scenario from FIFA in the aftermath of the Kanjuruhan Stadium tragedy in East Java, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has announced that world soccer’s governing body has decided not to sanction Indonesia, which is due to host the U-20 Soccer World Cup next year.
Instead, FIFA and the government will work together to “overhaul Indonesian soccer” to prevent similar tragedies from occurring – including what observers see as a heavy-handed approach to policing soccer matches.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino informed President Jokowi of the organization’s decision in a letter dated Oct. 5.
As revealed in the letter, the overhaul process, which will also involve the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI), targets several key issues: stadium safety standards, match policing protocols, social engagement with fan clubs and supporter groups and match scheduling.
During his visit to Kanjuruhan last week, Jokowi ordered a full audit of all stadiums used for professional matches, but remained silent on the use of tear gas by the police, which many regard as one of the main causes of the stampede that killed 131 people, including children, on Oct. 1.
The stakes are even higher now after a National Police spokesman confirmed reports that several of the tear gas canisters used by the Mobile Brigade had already expired.
“Yes, we found some tear gas canisters that had expired in 2021, some canisters. I don’t have the number, but the police laboratory unit is looking into this,” said Insp. Gen. Dedi Prasetyo, as quoted by Kompas.com on Monday.
Dedi prefaced this by saying that expired tear gas is usually less potent.
An independent investigation into the Kanjuruhan tragedy by civil society groups suspected that some of the tear gas used to disperse crowds had expired, and that the police had fired an excessive amount of it within a short span of time and without preparing medical assistance.
Days after footage of police firing tear gas into the stands circulated widely online, National Police chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo revealed in a press conference in Malang, East Java, that a total of 11 tear gas canisters were fired by security forces, state news agency Antara reported.
‘Differences in culture’
Mila Temajaya, head of the University of Indonesia’s Department of Occupational Health and Safety, under the Faculty of Public Health, opined that tear gas had no place at a soccer match.
“Tear gas is typically used against protesters in chaotic situations. But people come to soccer matches to have fun,” Mila told The Jakarta Post. She also said the police should have considered the age and gender makeup of the crowd itself, on top of other potential vulnerabilities.
“This is especially true for people in the stands, where there are [specific associated] hazards. Tear gas should never be used in these conditions,” she said.
On the matter of a police presence, Mila acknowledged it is sometimes required, albeit to anticipate terrorism-related risks and not crowd safety management, which she said remained the responsibility of trained volunteers known in soccer as stewards.
“And if the police must be involved, they shouldn’t be adopting a repressive approach, but rather prioritize the safety of all,” she said.
Julius Ibrani of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) said that the heavy security presence during the match indicated a national security approach, which he deemed to be sorely misplaced.
“This isn’t a national security issue. They should be deployed during civil riots, […] not against soccer fans inside a stadium,” Julius said in a recent press briefing.
In a recent interview with Tempo magazine, PSSI chairman Mochamad Iriawan acknowledged such contentious issues. “In soccer matches abroad, there are no police inside the stadium. We can’t do that owing to the differences in cultures. However, we’ll work something out; perhaps ditch the uniforms and tear gas,” he said.
Mila said the responsibility of ensuring crowd safety ultimately lay with the organizers, including the PSSI. But Iriawan deflected responsibility to the match’s organizing committee, some of whose leaders have since been named by the police as suspects for negligent manslaughter.
Speaking to the Post on Monday, veteran sports journalist Anton Sanjoyo, a member of the state-sanctioned joint fact-finding team, revealed that the Kanjuruhan match organizer claimed “he was unaware of FIFA regulations banning the use of tear gas”.
He said that the PSSI and PT Liga Indonesia Baru, as owner and operator of Liga 1, had failed to communicate such technical details properly, essentially leaving the organizing committee to decide on their own how to enforce security during soccer matches.