Malang – Dicky Kurniawan felt the stinging burn in his eyes as Indonesian police fired tear gas into the football stadium.
From his seat near an exit, he said he watched the melee on Saturday night as angry fans poured onto the field demanding answers after hosts Arema FC from the city of Malang in East Java lost to Persebaya Surabaya. the first defeat ever in his home stadium. The mob threw bottles and other objects and the violence spread outside the stadium, where police cars were overturned and set on fire.
Kurniawan, 22, was shocked when police fired tear gas at spectators in the stands. As the stinging gas spread through the stadium, Kurniawan grabbed his girlfriend and, like everyone else, ran for the exits.
The mass onslaught led to a stampede that almost instantly killed nearly three dozen people. The death toll reached 125 and hundreds more were injured in one of the world’s deadliest sporting event tragedies. More than 40,000 spectators attended the game, all Arema fans because organizer Persebaya banned Surabaya supporters due to Indonesia’s history of violent soccer rivalries.
“The chaos was on the field but they fired the tear gas into the stands of the stadium,” said Kurniawan, describing the tragedy from his hospital bed. He suffered bruises on his face but said he was lucky to have survived.
“Now I’m done watching football at the stadium,” said Kurniawan.
In bed next to Kurniawan, teenage Farel Panji also had a lucky escape.
Panji, 16, had just left his seat to head for the exit when the tear gas erupted. As people ran past him to get to the exit, Panji said he was crushed by the crowd and collapsed.
“I fainted for a while. When I woke up, I was still in the seating area of the stadium,” Panji said. He came home safely and was taken to the hospital the next day. Wearing an Arema shirt, Panji said Saturday’s incident didn’t stop him from loving the club.
the dr Saiful Anwar General Hospital in Malang, one of several treating victims, was full of grieving relatives on Sunday waiting to identify bodies at the morgue or receive information on their loved ones.
According to the police, 323 people were injured in the crush, some are still in critical condition. According to the Department of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, at least 17 children were among the dead and seven other children are being treated in hospitals.
Arema Chile coach Javier Roca led the players and other officials to pay their respects to the dead in a ceremony on Monday.
The team wore black shirts and gathered in front of a lion head statue outside of Kanjuruhan Stadium. Dozens of Arema devotees also attended and cried as the players poured rose petals around the statue and prayed together.
“We came here as a team asking forgiveness from the families affected by this tragedy, those who have lost loved ones or those who are still being treated in hospital,” Roca said.
He said football violence must stop.
“We feel like we got a penalty,” he said. “A score isn’t worth paying for with people’s lives, let alone more than 100 people.”
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