Since 1994, violence at football matches in Indonesia has claimed 74 lives. The country has earned a reputation as one of Asia’s most violent football nations.
For many, football is more than just a game. It brings communities together, rallies people under a national banner and offers an escape from poverty for a select group of talented players. In Indonesia, however, football is more than just a game. It is a matter of life and death.
Watching a football match in Indonesia could cost you your life. With huge animosity between teams and violence a frequent fixture at football matches, players often have to be transported to the stadium in Barracuda armoured personnel carriers.
Heavy fines against violent fans and potentially dangerous games being played behind closed doors have failed to stop the violence. Incidents in recent years have risen to alarming levels, putting pressure on the Indonesian football association (PSSI) and the government adopt stronger measures.
A recent incident turned deadly when a Jakarta Persija fan named Haringga Sirla was beaten to death by supporters of rival team Persib, from Bandung in West Java.
League games were suspended for two weeks after the incident, but violence continued for the remainder of the season.
The hate between rival fans runs deep
The hatred present in Indonesian football is best represented in the rivalry between Jakarta’s football fans, known as the “Jak Mania,” and Bandung’s Persib supporters, “the Viking” or “Bobotoh.” Seven people have lost their lives in clashed between the supporters over the past seven years.
Hooliganism within supporters is rampant. The internalization of violent messages is clearly present in their chants and slogans. Bobotoh often sing a song which includes the line; they “should be killed” in reference to Jak Mania.
The ticketing system is another major problem causing havoc in the stadium. Many fans in Indonesia watch without any tickets. Supporters somehow find their way into the stadium.
According to Persib officials, the night of Harringa’s death, there were 50,000 people in a stadium designed to hold 38,000. Only 36,000 tickets were sold that night.
Fans do no trust Indonesia’s football association and authorities
Dex Glenniza, the managing editor of Pandit football, believes existing penalties do not go far. He is calling for more robust action. “Teams have not learned from the past,” he added.
The PSSI is infamous for its poor management and corruption scandals. In 2015, FIFA banned Indonesia from international competition due to PSSI’s conflict with other football bodies. The ban was lifted in 2015.
Weak security procedures and ineffective management have paved the way for violence. Before the heated match between Persib and Persija, Persib supporters were demanding fans entering the stadium show their IDs. Haringga’s was holding a Jakarta ID, which led to his beating.
Edy, who held office as the North Sumatran governor while serving as PSSI’s chairman, had a conflict of interest and could not effectively manage PSSI. According to Akmal Marhali, the coordinator of local NGO, Save Our Soccer, who spoke during his time in office, “nineteen people have died since he became PSSI chairman. Thirteen out of nineteen died within the match area.”
On March 25,, 2019, the acting chairman of PSSI, Joko Driyono, and 15 other officials were arrested for their involvement in the match-fixing scandal, prompting further anger from football fans and shattering public confidence in the PSSI.
At the championship match between Persija and Bali United, fights broke out outside before the game, and hundreds of fans forced their way into the stadium. The police lost control and failed to intervene.
Stricter regulations are needed to curb violence
Several recommendations have been put to PSSI to solve the issue. Bambang Pamungkas, Persija star and a veteran of the game argued “fines are no longer an effective way to punish clubs.” he suggested PSSI deduct points from clubs whose supporters commit violence. “If supporters want their teams to prevail, then they have to behave,” he added.
Bambang also agrees with a total ban on Indonesian league games until peace is restored. “If mishaps still occur, then I think Indonesia doesn’t deserve football,” he said.
English football was once plagued with violence between supporters. The English football association responded by introducing new and advanced security measures that could flag potential danger, preventing rival fans from conflict. Stadiums were re-designed so that the visiting supporters are confined to one area with its own entrance and exit.
New ticketing systems also required English supporters to give their contact details when purchasing tickets. This allowed individual buyers to be traced back to their seats. The new system made it possible for officials to identify potential conflict areas before violence occurred.
In Indonesia, integrating a similar ticketing system poses several difficulties. First, the system would need the central government’s backing, which has so far shown no interest. Secondly, many of the fans don’t buy tickets. Supporters are still able to find their way into the stadium without getting detected. The PSSI would first have to stamp out illegal entry to the stadiums.
The teams themselves should also take responsibility and play an active role in stamping out violence among their supporters. Clubs and the PSSI should work together and create strict regulations regarding the use of hate speech in chants, songs, and merchandise.
Violence in Indonesian football needs to stop, or the country may well have to say farewell to professional football.