‘They were dying in front of us’ – when a stadium turned into a battlefield

By Nayara Batschke

Bangkok, Oct 3 (EFE).- The Kanjuruhan stadium in Indonesia turned into a battlefield during the weekend as a stampede during a soccer game left at least 125 people dead in one of the world’s deadliest sporting disasters.

“They were scenes of war. We saw people die in the locker room,” Brazilian goalkeeper Adilson dos Santos, who plays for the Arema Football Club, told EFE about Saturday’s tragedy in the city of Malang, East Java.

“It looked like the war between Ukraine and Russia and not a football pitch. There was only chaos and panic,” recounted the player.

The spiral of violence started when some 3,000 fans of the host team, Arema, stormed the field after a 2-3 defeat against their rival, Persebaya Surabaya, and clashed with security forces, who responded with tear gas, causing panic among the spectators.

Players and officials of Arema FC mourn as they pay condolence to the victims of the soccer match riot and stampede outside Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, Indonesia, 03 October 2022. EPA-EFE/MAST IRHAM

“They started bringing some of the most seriously wounded into the locker room. We saw people dying, I went into complete despair,” Dos Santos recalled over telephone.

Immediately after the final whistle, with tension looming, the players and match officials quickly made their way to the locker rooms, where they remained holed up for about five hours until the situation was under control.

“At first we only heard the noise of the (tear gas) bombs, then the blows, screams, the crying and people breaking everything. But then they began to bring the wounded, some already dead. Many were blue because of lack of oxygen and died in front of us,” he said.

The situation further escalated when fans “killed one of the policemen,” leading to a “harsh response” from officers who fired tear-gas at the crowd, causing a stampede that left at least 125 people dead, including 17 children, and more than three hundred wounded.

“Suddenly, a cloud of that toxic smoke spread over the whole place. And chaos broke out. Many people fell, fainted, were trampled on, and inhaled all that smoke,” the goalkeeper said.

Players and officials of Arema FC mourn as they pay condolence to the victims of the soccer match riot and stampede inside Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, Indonesia, 03 October 2022. EPA-EFE/MAST IRHAM

“We had nowhere to escape, we were waiting for the moment when (the fans) would come for us. It was the worst hours of my life,” added the 32-year old footballer, who has been playing for the Indonesian club for almost two years.

When they were finally able to leave the locker room safely, albeit escorted, the players saw a “brutal scenario of total chaos.”

“We went out and saw the entire stadium damaged, people bloody, others in shock, others choking. There were many wounded, bodies thrown, cars burned. I just wanted to get out alive,” Dos Santos recalled.

Images of the stadium riot went viral around the world, leaving people shocked and leading to calls against violence in sport.

Eye-witnesses and survivors have also denounced the excessive use of force by the police, and the Indonesian government announced Monday an independent investigation into the alleged brutality by the officers present.

The authorities also announced a series of measures to reassess the rules for holding football matches and increase security in the stadiums in Indonesia, known for strong rivalry between clubs and where outbreaks of violence are not uncommon. EFE

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