FIFA vows to improve security in Indonesian football after tragedy

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – The president of soccer’s world governing body met with Indonesia’s president Tuesday and pledged to help improve stadium security to prevent a repeat of the tragedy in which police fired tear gas at a match, triggering a stampede that killed 132. people as spectators tried to escape.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said it would bring experts and investment to improve infrastructure across the football-obsessed country of more than 276 million people because “they love football and we owe it to them that when they go to watch the matches they are safe and secure.”

He said FIFA will work closely with the government, the Asian Football Confederation and the Indonesian Football Association to ensure that the FIFA U-20 World Cup, hosted by Indonesia next year, runs smoothly.

“My presence here is a sign of a new departure for football in Indonesia,” Infantino said at a joint press conference with Indonesian President Joko Widodo. “What I can guarantee to the president, what I can guarantee to all the people in Indonesia, is that FIFA is here with you.”

The October 1 tragedy at a stadium in the East Java city of Malang that killed 132 people, including 43 children, is one of the world’s deadliest sports disasters. About 580 spectators were injured, the government said.

A fact-finding team set up by Widodo in response to the national outcry concluded on Friday that tear gas was the main cause of the tragedy.

Police on duty were said to have had no knowledge that the use of tear gas was banned in football stadiums and used it “indiscriminately” on the pitch, in the stands and outside the stadium, causing more than 42,000 spectators inside the 36,000-seat stadium to rush for the exits.

The fact-finding team, which included government officials, football and security experts and activists, also concluded that the national football association, known as PSSI, had been negligent and ignored regulations, and called on its president and executive committee to resign .

Police fired tear gas at the end of the match as fans flooded the pitch in anger after their team, Arema FC, were beaten at home for the first time in 23 years by rivals Persebaya Surabaya. Only Arema fans attended the match as the organizers banned Persebaya fans due to Indonesia’s history of violent football rivalries.

The National Police has dismissed the police chiefs of East Java Province and Malang District and suspended nine other officers for violating professional ethics.

Authorities said they were filing criminal charges against six people for negligence, including the head of the league’s organizer PT Liga Indonesia Baru, two Arema FC officials and three police officers who allowed or ordered officers to use tear gas. Each could face up to five years in prison if convicted.

Despite the national passion for the sport, PSSI has long struggled to govern football in Indonesia due to the game’s close ties to politics and years of corruption, violence and mismanagement.

Winning the right to host the Under-20 World Cup next year was a major milestone in Indonesia’s development, raising hopes that a successful tournament would help reverse long-standing problems.

Widodo insisted that Indonesia will host the tournament professionally and in accordance with FIFA security standards.

“We agreed that this tragedy is a very important lesson for Indonesian football, but also for the world,” Widodo said.

He said his administration has agreed to completely transform Indonesian football to ensure all aspects are run in accordance with FIFA’s safety standards.

While in Jakarta, Infantino will also meet with a fact-finding team to discuss the findings of the investigation and recommendations to the government, as well as to speak with the PSSI executive committee, which is seeking the continuation of the league, which has been suspended since the tragedy.

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