The deaths of more than 170 soccer fans after a game in the Indonesian city of Malang is a reminder that, though the sport attracts millions of spectators across the globe every weekend, the combination of large crowds and at times aggressive policing can prove disastrous.
While deaths at games remain rare in the context of the vast scale of soccer, this is not the first time this year that the sport has had to confront the reality that, when tragedies do occur, they tend to be the consequence not of fan violence but of failures of policing, security and crowd management.
In January, at least eight people were killed and dozens more were injured in a crush at Olembé Stadium in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, before a game between the host nation and the Comoros in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Patrice Motsepe, the president of African soccer’s governing body, suggested that the crush had occurred as thousands of fans tried to enter the stadium. With kickoff approaching, they were directed by security services to a gate that was “closed for inexplicable reasons,” Mr. Motsepe said. “If that gate was open, as it was supposed to be, we would not have had this loss of life,” he said.
A number of high-profile games in Europe over the last two years have also come troublingly close to serious danger for spectators. At the final of the delayed 2020 European Championship, held at Wembley Stadium in London, thousands of fans broke through security barriers to gain entrance.
After this year’s Europa League final, between Eintracht Frankfurt and the Scottish team Rangers in Seville, Spain, both clubs took the unusual step of issuing a joint letter of complaint to UEFA, the organization that governs European soccer, about the way their fans were treated.
Most worrisome of all was the Champions League final, European soccer’s showpiece occasion, between Liverpool and Real Madrid in Paris in May. Outside the stadium in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, French security officers fired tear gas into tightly packed crowds of Liverpool fans waiting to enter.
In July, a French Senate inquiry faulted the authorities for what it called a “fiasco” at the final, determining that poor coordination, bad planning and multiple errors by the authorities had caused the chaos.
As with the game in Indonesia on Saturday, the authorities responsible for policing and crowd control at the final in France initially blamed fans for the problems. UEFA even posted messages on the stadium’s video boards saying the final’s delayed kickoff was the result of late-arriving fans — despite knowing that those fans had been trapped in bottlenecks outside, sometimes for hours.