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‘Inexcusable’ for police to use tear gas in deadly Indonesian football stampede: Analyst

An enclosed stadium environment offers little escape for victims seeking to flee from the choking and burning effects of tear gas, said an analyst, adding that investigations should centre on the role of authorities.

‘Inexcusable’ for police to use tear gas in deadly Indonesian football stampede: Analyst

At least 125 people died at a football stadium in Indonesia when fans invaded the pitch and police responded with tear gas. (Photo: AFP/STR)

SINGAPORE: Police usage of tear gas to disperse football fans in Indonesia on Saturday (Oct 1), triggering a stampede that killed at least 125 people, was “inexcusable”, said an analyst. He cited confined space and a lack of escape routes. 

“The fact that people cannot breathe, that they are struggling to get oxygen … surely from a police policy and procedure point of view, it has to be known that (tear gas) creates the biggest amount of panic that you can create in a confined space,” Professor Hans Westerbeek told CNA’s Asia First on Monday, two days after the incident.

“Absolutely, it's inexcusable to use tear gas."

Spectators were trampled as they charged towards gates at the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang after police fired tear gas on Arema FC supporters storming the pitch following their 3-2 loss to visiting rivals Persebaya Surabaya.

Police said many were crushed or suffocated to death, including 32 children, in one of the world’s deadliest stadium disasters.

An enclosed stadium environment offers little escape for victims seeking to flee from the choking and burning effects of tear gas, said Prof Westerbeek from the International Sport Business department at Victoria University, adding that investigations should centre on the role of authorities instead of movements of the crowds.

“In a confined space, why do you decide to create that level of panic where you basically herd people into areas where there's no way out?” he asked. “I think that will be pretty much the focus of the internal and localised investigation of the actions of police.”

FIFA, the world’s governing body for football, says in its regulations that police and stewards should not carry or use firearms or crowd control gas.

STADIUM WAS OVER CAPACITY

The usage of tear gas was reactive rather than preventive, said Prof Westerbeek.

“The police were combating the symptoms rather than going back to the cause of the problem which was (that) 4,000 tickets (were sold) in excess of stadium capacity,” he said.

The 38,000-capacity stadium in East Java was overfilled, with 42,000 tickets issued for the match, Indonesia's chief security minister Mahfud MD said in social media posts, adding that organisers ignored a recommendation to print fewer tickets. 

Violence at football matches is not uncommon in Indonesia, and supporters of the visiting Persebaya Surabaya team had not been allowed to buy tickets to the game, due to fears of clashes between the rival fans. 

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has suspended all games in the Indonesian top football league Liga 1, and ordered an investigation into the tragedy.

STADIUM AND SAFETY REGULATIONS

Multiple past stadium disasters have been caused in part by dated arenas that did not have the safety measures implemented by newer stadiums that adhere to sports bodies’ regulations, Professor David Shilbury told CNA’s Asia Now.

“Old dated stadiums with lots of standing room and crowds packed in like sardines - that’s one of the things that's changed in more recent times, where the design of modern stadiums is to have seated-only and no standing room agreement in terms of occupational health and safety measures,” said Prof Shilbury, chair of Sport Management at the Deakin Business School.

Prof Shilbury said that there are generic measures in stadium construction and building, and standards that FIFA and continental associations hold stadiums to in terms of formal, international, and continental matches.

With Indonesia getting ready to host next year’s Under-20 World Cup, its stadiums will likely be closely scrutinised by FIFA, especially following the weekend’s tragedy, said Prof Westerbeek.

“I think FIFA will be nervous about the work that has to be done in order to safeguard old stadiums,” he said.

“You can be sure that FIFA will apply very high scrutiny to the standards upon which the stadiums will be provided for that (U-20) global tournament that will be hosted by Indonesia.”

Source: CNA/dn(ja)
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