Indonesia football violence must be tackled

Scott McIntyre Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre on why its time to put a stop to the deadly violence that has seen 76 football fans killed at Indonesian matches in the last 13 years.

Six years ago I was in Jakarta for one of the most anticipated football derbies on the planet but it was there that I received a shocking first hand look at what’s becoming an epidemic that needs to finally be solved – the senseless death of football fans at Indonesian matches.

The news this week that the Indonesian government has stepped in to shut down the country’s top division, Liga 1, for two weeks is hardly a surprise given the international outrage over the latest death, but neither is it a solution to a problem that’s dogged the nation for several decades.

Haringga Sirila is the latest name to be etched in a heartbreaking roll of – mostly young – fans that have lost their lives simply by attending a football match in the country.

The 23-year-old Persija Jakarta supporter had ignored ‘safety advice’ to avoid traveling for the bitter derby in the neighbouring city of Bandung and once he’d been identified as a Persija fan outside the stadium he was quickly set upon and beaten to death – with fists and wooden planks – by a mob of more than half a dozen Persib fans.

FOX Sports Asia spoke this week with Akmal Marhali, who runs the Save our Soccer organisation and who has been an outspoken critic of the league, and who provided a document that the SOS has been collating which lists the deaths of 76 supporters who have been killed in or around football matches since 1995.

SEVENTY SIX supporters.

Can you imagine if this happened in England, France, Germany or elsewhere in Europe?

There would, rightly, be a global outcry and it’s time now for authorities at all levels in Indonesia football and government to say that enough is enough.

Following the Egyptian model – where the league was completely shut down and supporters banned for several years – may well need to be the starting place.

Talk of moving the more heated derbies – Persija/Persib being chief amongst them – to far-flung locations only makes the problem somebody else’s because fans will still continue to travel.

On the list of the 76 victims of the violence provided to FOX Sports Asia, three were killed at a single match in May, 2012 – one of the deadliest single days in this long and sorry story.

That was a match that I attended to write a feature piece on the history of what is one of the most heated rivalries anywhere on the planet.

So tense was the atmosphere that the players from the visiting Persib Bandung side had to travel to and from the match venue in armoured tanks – each fitting six to eight people.

The support staff travelled in a separate bus and even that wasn’t safe from the violence with the windows being smashed in as it left the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium on the way back to the team hotel.

I had a photographers pass on that afternoon and was sat behind one of the goals and even there – a full twenty or so metres from the pitch – you weren’t safe as flares rained down from the stands where approximately 80,000 fans – all nominally Persija ones – had gathered.

One man next to me was struck by one of the flares and, bleeding heavily, taken to hospital by ambulance.

Others weren’t so lucky.

So fierce is the rivalry that for this particular match, Persib fans were banned from entering the venue due to the threat of violence – but that didn’t deter some die hard fans from going to great extremes to see their club play with dozens going as far as dressing in Persija shirts and then trying to remain calm when goals were scored.

Even that didn’t save them.

At halftime the hardest elements of the Persija fan group, the Jakmania, did a sweep of the stands asking for ID cards for anyone they suspected of being from Bandung and sure enough they found one.

Right in front of my eyes, perhaps thirty metres from where I stood, they then proceeded to beat the man to death.

Inside the stadium, at halftime.

At a football match in the 20th century.

The fences were ringed by huge rows of barbed wire and by the time security arrived some minutes later the man was already dead.

22-year-old Rangga Cipta Nugraha, 29-year-old Lazuuardi and 17-year-old Dani Maulana were the names of the dead Persib fans on that one day alone.

These are names now slowly being lost in a list that tragically continues to grow almost month by month and the time for this senseless killing to end has now squarely arrived.

If the PSSI and the league organisers can no longer stop the violence and the government refuses to then the AFC and FIFA must step in.

Ban the clubs, ban the supporters, close down the league entirely – do whatever it takes to stop the deaths of young football fans whose on going to a match to support their teams.

Photos: Scott McIntyre

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