Football Violence in Indonesia

Football Violence in Indonesia: A Case from Yogyakarta

On Sunday 12th October, 2014,  Muhammad Ikhwanuddin, was killed in a car park near Adi Sucipto airport, Yogyakarta. He had been dragged from the bus, beaten with a baseball bat and stabbed in the chest. The bus had been pursued by around 30 men and boys on motorcycles. Ikhwan had been at the Persis Solo vs PSCS match, earlier in the day at Manahan Stadium in Solo. The match ended in a 1-0 win for the home team. Ikhwan had taken the train to Solo, but after having met up with friends from Cilacap, he was invited to take the supporter-hired bus home. He would be getting off in Yogya, as he was a student at UIN.The windows of the bus were shattered from being pelted with stones; the attackers were ready with baseball bats, knives and no doubt, whatever else they could find. This was an ambush: the victims were unprepared. The victims were helpless. 8:30pm on a Sunday night in Sleman, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta. Signs can still be found throughout the city, ‘Yogya berhati nyaman’; ‘Yogya, the kind hearted city’.

A couple of weeks earlier, some fans who are a part of Pasoepati, who support Persis Solo, had their vehicles attacked while passing through Yogyakarta. The Pasoepati buses and cars would also later be attacked near Bandung, West Java. There would be more violence at Ciamis’s stadium. Nobody was killed, but there was some Rp.300million in damage. In the days afterwards, Pasoepati were deployed throughout the city of Solo, trying to raise funds to cover the costs of the damage. In Yogya, those who took part in the attacks, recounted their participation with a sense of subdued pride at the spontaneity of their actions and also their success in ambushing, their arch-enemies, Pasoepati. At the following Persis Solo game, ticket prices were increased also take make a contribution to the costs incurred on their away trip. Perhaps because no one was killed in the attacks on the buses and the violence at the stadium, the incidents were barely covered in the media – reports only appearing in the Solo press. The rocks thrown are part of an ongoing cycle of revenge between supporter groups. Supporters on all sides take pride in their ingenuity of attacking the other, while condemning the brutality of the others.

The attacks in Yogyakarta, and most likely elsewhere, were largely aided by the regular tweets sent by the Pasoepati touring party. They unwittingly gave information to their eventual attackers. This allowed those waiting along the route to prepare their attack. That the Persis Solo fans were tweeting their arrival in Yogyakarta was considered a brazen provocation. Not only were they (Pasoepati) in Yogya, they were also proudly announcing it through social media. This was both a geographical and virtual transgression.

In the aftermath of the killing of Ikhwan, social media, again played a vital role, of both condemnation, clarification and a statement of loyalty. Condemnation came from supporter groups criticising the extremity of the Sleman supporters actions. Some Yogya-based supporter groups issued statements that it had nothing to do with them. PSS Sleman related twitter accounts re-tweeted the tweets of fans who were expressing their love and solidarity for the club. Such tweets came thick and fast in the wake of PSSI’s decisions to move two of PSS Sleman’s games to locations 100km from Sleman.

This minor punishment for the club, gave a large swathe of fans the opportunity to play the role of victim. Many tweeted that this ordeal was simply part of their struggle to reach the ISL. Most offensively, some tweeted that the bonds between PSS fans is stronger than the bonds between family members. Try telling this to Ikhwan’s father; a man who has lost his blameless son to an act of mindless and random brutality. The best PSS Sleman could do was to state that the incident was ‘to be regretted’. Others stated that the club should not be punished for something that happened out of the context of a game, and that it was a purely criminal act. There were no unambiguous statements criticising the brutality of BCS’s actions.

This incident is not proof that ‘soccer in Indonesia has lost its innocence’. For, soccer has always been a part of society, and deaths and casual violence are an accepted part of being an ‘ultra’ or a ‘hooligan’. Indeed, violent clashes are used by some members of supporter groups to further glorify their bravery, dedication, loyalty and to further the image of the other supporter groups as being arrogant, brutal and provocative. Attacks on other fans are justified through reasons of revenge. Justice, it is believed, is in their own hands and can be created through throwing stones. To put it mildly, there is no faith in an impartial police or legal system to protect victims and maintain the rule of law. Ikhwan may not have been killed ‘in broad daylight’, but, 8:30pm on Jl.Solo near Adi Sucipto airport is hardly isolated and quiet. This scene would have proved to be some ‘welcome to Yogyakarta’ for domestic or foreign tourists. Presumably, this is not what Yogya’s political leaders want the city to be known for.

Ikhwan, a law student at UIN, might become a symbol of a new level of casual brutality amongst soccer fans in Yogya and elsewhere. His death is a tragedy, pure and simple. His death should be condemned by all and sundry. Ikhwan, however, should have become whatever he dreamed to be. His family will never have him back. PSS Sleman has been very successfully financially, their supporter groups – including BCS – have been noted for the artistry of the choreography, chanting and committed supporter culture. Their campaign of ‘no ticket no game’ was part of an effort of responsible fandom. PSS Sleman’s merchandise is official and proceeds go to the club. Yet, in this case, not only have they been implicated in a gross violent act, they have also failed to condemn the violence. Soccer, indeed is run by mafias and supporter groups with heavily vested interests in the success of their clubs. This tragedy could be a turning point. Or, it simply could be just another death that perpetuates cycles of revenge.

Santions for PSS

*First published in The Footy Almanac, 9th November 2014 and The Jakarta Post, 15th November, 2014.

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