Stadium tragedy exposes Indonesia’s troubled soccer history

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Supporters evacuate a man hit by tear gas fired by police during the riot at a football stadium in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct. 2, 2022. (Antara Foto via REUTERS)
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Women weep after receiving confirmation that their family member was among those killed in football riots in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct. 2, 2022. (AP)
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An Indonesian flag is seen at the funeral of a police officer who died after a riot and stampede at a football stadium in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct. 2, 2022. (Antara Foto via REUTERS)
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A riot police officer fires tear gas during a riot at a football stadium in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct. 2, 2022. (Antara Foto via REUTERS)
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Updated 03 October 2022

Stadium tragedy exposes Indonesia’s troubled soccer history

  • Saturday's football tragedy in Malang is a tragic reminder that Indonesia is one of the most dangerous countries in which to attend a game
  • Data from Indonesia’s soccer watchdog, Save Our Soccer, showed 78 people have died in game-related incidents over the past 28 years

SEOUL, South Korea: Gaining the right to host next year’s Under-20 World Cup was a major milestone in Indonesia’s soccer development, raising hopes that a successful tournament would turn around long-standing problems that have blighted the sport in this country of 277 million people.
The death of at least 125 people at a league game between host Arema FC of East Java’s Malang city and Persebaya Surabaya on Saturday is a tragic reminder, however, that Indonesia is one of the most dangerous countries in which to attend a game.
“Do remember that the FIFA U-20 World Cup will be the worldwide spotlight since the event will be joined by 24 countries from five continents,” Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo said last month as he pushed for thorough preparations for the tournament.
Since Saturday, the domestic league has been suspended. Widodo has ordered the sports minister, the national police chief and the soccer federation to conduct a thorough investigation into the deadly stadium crush.
Indonesia was the first Asian team ever to play at a World Cup — participating in 1938 as Dutch East Indies — but despite an undoubted national passion for the sport, it has never returned to the global stage because of years of corruption, violence and mismanagement.
Data from Indonesia’s soccer watchdog, Save Our Soccer, showed 78 people have died in game-related incidents over the past 28 years.




An Indonesian flag is seen at the funeral of a police officer who died after a riot and stampede at a football stadium in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct. 2, 2022. (Antara Foto via REUTERS) 

Those accused are often associated with supporter groups that attach themselves to clubs, with the biggest boasting hundreds of thousands of members.
Arema intense rivalry with Surabaya meant that no visiting fans were allowed in the stadium on the weekend. Yet violence broke out when the home team lost 3-2 and some of the 42,000 Arema fans, known as “Aremania,” threw bottles and other objects at players and soccer officials.
Restrictions on visiting fans also have failed in the past. In 2016, despite Persib Bandung supporters being banned from a game with bitter rival Persija Jakarta, they were blamed for the death of a Jakarta supporter.
A month earlier, a Persib fan had been beaten to death by Jakarta followers.
In 2018, local media reported a seventh death in six years related to Indonesia’s biggest soccer rivalry.
Soccer fans have accused security officials of being heavy-handed in the past and on the weekend, with witnesses describing officers beating them with sticks and shields before shooting tear gas canisters directly into the crowds. In 2016, police were accused of killing 16-year-old supporter Muhammad Fahreza at a game between Persija and Persela Lamongan, resulting in mass demonstrations demanding an end to police brutality.
“The police who were in charge of security violated FIFA stadium safety and security regulations,” soccer analyst Akmal Marhali told Indonesian media on Sunday, referring to the use of tear gas on Malang fans who entered the pitch after their team’s defeat. That sparked a rush for exits in an overcrowded stadium.
“The Indonesia Football Association may have been negligent for not informing the police that security procedures at a football match are not the same as those at a demonstration.”
FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, prohibits the use of tear gas by on-field security or police at stadiums.




A riot police officer fires tear gas during a riot at a football stadium in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct. 2, 2022. (Antara Foto via REUTERS) 

Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said police who violated regulations should be tried in open court.
“This loss of life cannot go unanswered. The police themselves have stated that the deaths occurred after police use of tear gas on the crowd resulted in a stampede at the stadium exits,” Hamid said in a statement. “Tear gas should also never be fired in confined spaces.”
The soccer association, known locally as PSSI, has long struggled to manage the game domestically.
In 2007, Nurdin Halid was imprisoned on corruption charges but was able to continue as the organization’s president until 2011. After Halid was banned from running for another term, a rival league, federation and national team emerged.
But chaotic administration continued until FIFA suspended Indonesia in 2015, a sanction that was lifted the following year.
In 2019, when FIFA awarded Indonesia hosting rights for the Under-20 World Cup, it was seen as a vote of confidence.
In June, a FIFA panel inspected the country’s soccer facilities and planning for the May 20-June 11 tournament and proclaimed its satisfaction.
“We are very pleased to see the preparations in Indonesia,” Roberto Grassi, Head of Youth Tournaments for FIFA said. “A lot of refurbishment work has been done already. We have had an encouraging visit and are confident of support from all stakeholders involved.”
Kanjuruhan Stadium, the site of the disaster on Saturday, is not among the six venues listed for the Under-20 World Cup, although nearby Surabaya Stadium is scheduled to host games.
FIFA has not yet commented on any potential impact on the Under-20 World Cup but the weekend tragedy is likely to damage Indonesia’s bid to host the 2023 Asian Cup. It is vying with South Korea and Qatar to become host of the continental championship after China relinquished its staging rights in May.
Indonesia has already co-hosted the tournament, sharing the event in 2007 with Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam and hosting the final in Jakarta, where Iraq beat Saudi Arabia for the title.
That was the last time Indonesia staged a major international soccer tournament. The Asian Football Confederation is expected to announce its decision on the 2023 tournament on Oct. 17.
There is unlikely to be any soccer played before then as people in Indonesia, and football followers around the globe, come to terms with one of the deadliest disasters ever at a sporting event.


Casemiro goal downs Switzerland to take Brazil into World Cup last 16

Updated 44 sec ago

Casemiro goal downs Switzerland to take Brazil into World Cup last 16

DOHA: A Brazil side lacking spark without the injured Neymar needed a late strike from Casemiro to edge out Switzerland 1-0 on Monday as the five-time winners secured their place in the World Cup last 16 with one game to spare.
The Brazilians had been frustrated by an obdurate Swiss side at Doha’s Stadium 974 and it looked as if they would have to settle for a point after a Vinicius Junior strike in the second half was disallowed for offside following a VAR check.
But then, with seven minutes remaining, Rodrygo flicked the ball on to Casemiro just inside the box and the Manchester United midfielder’s volley flew into the net with the help of a slight but significant deflection off Manuel Akanji.
Tite’s side are just the second team to qualify for the last 16 after France and the only side apart from the holders to have won both group matches so far in Qatar.
“The first aim was to qualify. That was really important in a group as difficult as ours,” the 30-year-old Casemiro told Brazilian broadcaster Sportv.
“We had to be patient against an experienced side who know how to play the game. It was always going to be decided by little details but we knew we would have plenty of possession and thankfully we managed to get the goal.”
With six points, Brazil will be tempted to rest players for their final Group G game against Cameroon on Friday, when a draw will secure top spot.
Switzerland, meanwhile, failed to muster a shot on target but remain on course to qualify too, knowing a win against Serbia in their last game will take Murat Yakin’s side through and a draw may also suffice.
“We are competitive against bigger teams. I think we have proven that time and time again,” said Yakin, who was missing one of his main creative sparks in Xherdan Shaqiri.
“We lacked a bit of courage going forward but there are a lot of good things to take from this.”
They have made a habit of making at least the first knockout round at major tournaments, while Brazil are in Qatar to win a sixth World Cup and nothing less will do.
The Selecao were always going to miss Neymar, although coach Tite has said he is confident the Paris Saint-Germain superstar will recover from his ankle injury to play a part again at the finals.
After the class of Richarlison made the difference in their opening win over Serbia, this was a reminder for the Brazilians of the strength in depth in the European game.
Four years ago, before losing to Belgium in the quarter-finals, they were also held by Switzerland in the group stage.
Yakin’s side therefore had no reason to fear Brazil, who introduced Manchester United midfielder Fred into their line-up in place of Neymar.
As a result they were set up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Fred and Lucas Paqueta either side of Casemiro, while Eder Militao stood in for the injured Danilo at right-back.
There were only flashes of what Brazil could do in a frustrating first half, with the loudest cheers from the masses of supporters in yellow and green coming when the big screen showed two-time World Cup-winning striker Ronaldo in the stands.
Vinicius had the best chance of the opening period when he connected with a Raphinha cross at the back post in the 27th minute, but Yann Sommer tipped his effort behind.
That Tite was not satisfied with Brazil’s first-half showing was clear when he hooked Paqueta at half-time and sent on Rodrygo.
The 21-year-old was involved when Brazil thought they had taken the lead just after the hour mark, helping gain possession before Casemiro released Vinicius to run through and score.
But the celebrations were cut shot as the goal was disallowed by VAR for an offside against Richarlison.
Tite turned to his bench and sent on more attackers in Gabriel Jesus and Antony, but the goal finally arrived from a less likely sources in Casemiro and Brazil saw out a deserved victory.


World Cup frenzy puts strain on Qatar’s camels

Updated 28 November 2022

World Cup frenzy puts strain on Qatar’s camels

  • World Cup fans coming in droves want perfect Instagram moment, riding a camel in the desert
  • Since the World Cup started, the animals are taken for 15 to 20, even 40 rides, without a break

MESAIEED, Qatar: Shaheen stretched out on the sand and closed his eyes, but there was little time to rest for the camel. World Cup fans coming in droves to the desert outside Doha were ready for their perfect Instagram moment: riding a camel on the rolling dunes.

As Qatar welcomes more than a million fans for the monthlong World Cup, even its camels are working overtime. Visitors in numbers the tiny emirate has never before seen are rushing to finish a bucket list of Gulf tourist experiences between games: ride on a camel’s back, take pictures with falcons and wander through the alleyways of traditional markets.

On a recent Friday afternoon, hundreds of visitors in soccer uniforms or draped in flags waited for their turn to mount the humpbacked animals. Camels that did not rise were forced up by their handlers. When one camel let out a loud grunt, a woman from Australia shrieked, “it sounds like they’re being violated!” Nearby, a group of men from Mexico dressed in white Qatari thobes and headdresses took selfies.

“It’s really an amazing feeling because you feel so tall,” 28-year-old Juan Gaul said after his ride. The Argentine fan was visiting Qatar for a week from Australia.

A man takes a selfie while riding camels in Mesaieed, Qatar on November 26, 2022. (AP)

Cashing in on the opportunity are the animals’ handlers who, thanks to the World Cup, are making several times more than they normally would.

“There’s a lot of money coming in,” said Ali Jaber al Ali, a 49 year-old Bedouin camel herder from Sudan. “Thank god, but it’s a lot of pressure.”

Al Ali came to Qatar 15 years ago but has worked with camels since he was a child. On an average weekday before the World Cup, Al Ali said his company would offer around 20 rides per day and 50 on weekends. Since the World Cup started, Al Ali and the men he works with are providing 500 rides in the morning and another 500 in the evening. The company went from having 15 camels to 60, he said.

“Tour guides want to move things fast,” Al Ali said, “so they add pressure on us.”

As crowds formed around them, many camels sat statue-like with cloth muzzles covering their mouths and bright saddles on their bodies. The smell of dung filled the air.

Like other Gulf cultures, camels once provided Qataris a vital form of transport and helped in the exploration and development of trade routes. Today, the ungulates figure into cultural pastimes: camel racing is a popular sport that takes place on old-school tracks outside the city.

Al Ali said he knows when an animal is tired — usually if it refuses to get up or sits back down after rising to its feet. He can identify each camel by its facial features.

“I am a Bedouin. I come from a family of Bedouins who care for camels. I grew up loving them,” Al Ali said.

But the sudden rise in tourists means there’s less time to rest between rides, he said. A short ride lasts just 10 minutes while longer ones run 20 to 30 minutes long.

Normally, Al Ali said a camel can rest after five rides. “Now, people are saying we can’t wait ... because they have other plans they need to go to in the middle of the desert,” he said.

A woman looks at her photo while riding a camel in Mesaieed, Qatar, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP)

Since the World Cup started, the animals are taken for 15 to 20 — sometimes even 40 rides — without a break.

Al Ali’s day starts around 4:30 a.m., when he feeds the animals and gets them ready for customers. Some tourists have been arriving at dawn, he said, hoping to get the perfect sunrise shot, “so we have to work with them and take photos for them.”

From midday until 2 p.m, both handlers and camels rest, he said. “Then we start getting ready for the afternoon battle.”

But not every visitor has been taken by the experience.

Pablo Corigliano, a 47 year-old real estate agent from Buenos Aires, said he was hoping for something more authentic. The excursions start on a stretch of desert by the side of a highway, not far from the industrial city of Mesaieed and its vast oil refineries.

“I was expecting something more wild,” said Corigliano. “I thought I would be crossing the desert, but when I arrived, I saw a typical tourist point.”

Soon after, Corigliano and a group of friends looked for a dune buggy to race into the desert.


US Soccer briefly removes emblem from Iran flag to show support for protesters

Updated 28 November 2022

US Soccer briefly removes emblem from Iran flag to show support for protesters

  • Federation says posts was intended to show “support for women fighting for basic human rights”
  • Iranian Football Federation says to file complaint against US Soccer to FIFA Ethics Committee

AL RAYYAN, Qatar: The United States Soccer Federation temporarily displayed Iran’s national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic Republic as a show of solidarity with protesters in Iran ahead of the two teams’ World Cup clash on Tuesday.

A now-deleted graphic of the Group B standings posted on Saturday across US Soccer’s official Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts displayed the Iranian flag only bearing its green, white and red colors.

Iran has been gripped by protests since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini’s death in September while in police custody after she was arrested for flouting the country’s strict Islamic dress code.

The intent of the posts was to show “support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights,” US Soccer media officer Michael Kammarman told a news conference on Sunday. Players were not consulted on the decision to alter the flag.

“We didn’t know anything about the posts but we are supporters of women’s rights, we always have been,” US defender Walker Zimmerman said.

“We’re focused a lot on Tuesday and the sporting side as well... but at the same time we’re firm believers in women’s rights and support them.

“And we know that it’s a lot of difficulties and a lot of heartbreak and in a very disturbing time.”

The banner on US Soccer’s Twitter page was also changed on Saturday to feature the flag without the emblem. It was changed back 24 hours later to the banner they had been using during the tournament.

Iran’s state-affiliated Tasnim News Agency said the Iranian Football Federation will file a complaint against US Soccer to the FIFA Ethics Committee for “disrespecting the national flag” of the Islamic Republic.

Iranian leaders have accused the United States and other foreign adversaries of fomenting the protests in which Iranians from all walks of life have mounted one of the boldest challenges to the theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Washington has imposed sanctions on Iranian officials over the crackdown on protesters. Activist news agency HRANA said 450 protesters had been killed as of Nov. 26, including 63 minors, and over 18,000 have been arrested.

Iran’s players declined to sing the national anthem in their first game against England in an apparent show of solidarity with protesters. They sang quietly on Friday before their 2-0 win over Wales, where boos and jeers were heard from Iran supporters.

“We can’t speak for them and their message. We know that they’re all emotional,” Zimmerman said. “They’re all going through things right now, they’re human. Again, we empathize with that human emotion and completely feel for them.”

The United States and Iran will face off in a decisive Group B clash with their place at the World Cup on the line, in a match which was already freighted by decades of enmity between the nations.

With England sitting top of Group B with four points and facing bottom side Wales in their final group game on Tuesday, the Iran-US contest will determine which team goes through to the last 16.

Their eagerly awaited meeting is a rematch of the 1998 World Cup group stage contest — which Iran won 2-1 — when relations between the two nations had also been hostile.


Shaheen a 'big loss' for Pakistan, says England coach McCullum

Updated 28 November 2022

Shaheen a 'big loss' for Pakistan, says England coach McCullum

  • The left-arm pacer was left out of series following a knee injury
  • The 22-year-old also had his appendix removed earlier this month

ISLAMABAD: The absence through injury of fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi is a "big loss" to Pakistan in the three-match Test series starting this week, England head coach Brendon McCullum said Monday. 

The lanky left-arm pacer -- Pakistan's main wicket-taker in all three formats -- was left out of the series following a knee injury sustained during the Twenty20 World Cup final in Australia earlier this month. 

The 22-year-old also had his appendix removed earlier this month. 

England practised for the first time at Rawalpindi stadium on Monday, a day after arriving in Pakistan on their first Test tour since 2005. 

The first Test starts on Thursday. 

McCullum said Shaheen had made huge progress since he played with and then coached the fast bowler during the first two editions of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in 2016 and 2017. 

"I know him pretty well. He's a wonderful bowler and he's turned into a fine leader for Pakistani cricket," McCullum told a press conference. 

"Shaheen's obviously a big loss." 

In his absence, Pakistan will rely on young Naseem Shah as well as Mohammad Wasim Junior and Haris Rauf -- who haven't played at Test level. 

But McCullum praised Pakistan's fast-bowling talent. 

"You look at their team sheet and you see talent... you see some that might not be developed talent, but it's talent. 

"You need to respect that, and you need to find a way to be able to be well-researched and well-planned about what's going to come at you." 

England were due to visit Pakistan last year but pulled out a week after New Zealand abandoned their limited-over series on security grounds minutes before the first match. 

They then re-scheduled the tour in two phases, having visited Pakistan for a Twenty20 series two months ago. 

McCullum, who took over as England coach last year, admitted Pakistan would be strong at home. 

"It's a very good Pakistan squad, it's well-rounded," said McCullum, under who England have won six out of seven Tests. 

"It's got some experience and some youth -- with both batting and bowling -- and they'll be a tough challenge. 

"We know we'll have to play well if we're going to be successful." 

The second Test is in Multan (December 9-13) and the third in Karachi (December 17-21). 


Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup

Updated 28 November 2022

Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup

  • If the Dutch advance it will put more focus on 71-year-old coach Louis van Gaal
  • Van Gaal stepped out of retirement just over a year ago to take over the national team

DOHA: The Netherlands is on the verge of reaching the knockout stage at the World Cup and an overwhelming favorite in its final Group A match on Tuesday against host nation Qatar.
If the Dutch advance it will put more focus on 71-year-old coach Louis van Gaal, who stepped out of retirement just over a year ago to take over the national team while being treated for aggressive prostate cancer.
Host nation Qatar has lost its first two matches and already missed its chance to move on from the group stage.
For the Netherlands a draw will suffice to advance and put the Netherlands into contention again in a World Cup after failing to qualify four years ago. The Dutch could even get through with a loss if Ecuador beats Senegal in the other Group A match.
In the round of 16, the Netherlands would face one of the top two teams from Group B, where England is the favorite with Iran, Wales, and the United States scrambling for a spot.
Van Gaal said before the World Cup that the Netherlands can win it all, although few see this as one of the country’s best teams.
No powerful soccer nation has come up short at the World Cup as often as the Dutch, who have been the runners-up three times: in 1974 against West Germany, in 1978 facing Argentina, and in 2010 vs. Spain.
The Dutch also finished third in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil after losing a shootout against Argentina in the semifinals.
After being out of the game for several years, Van Gaal came out of retirement and replaced Frank de Boer in August of 2021. He said he did it out of duty.
“Because, simply, no one else was available at that time,” Van Gaal said.
Van Gaal’s matter-of-fact courage has to be a motivator for the Dutch. But he might also stir up Qatar.
Earlier this year the outspoken Van Gaal said it was “ridiculous” holding the World Cup in Qatar, a tiny country of 3 million. Qatar’s vast wealth is fueled by natural gas and oil.
“It’s ridiculous that we’re going to play in a country to — what does FIFA say? — — to develop football there,” Van Gaal said, adding that Qatar is too small and lacks a soccer culture.
“But it doesn’t matter. It’s about money, commercial interests. That’s what matters to FIFA,” Van Gaal added.