‘Humanity above football’: Thousands of Persebaya fans mourn Kanjuruhan tragedy victims

Thousands of Persebaya fans hold a vigil for the victims of the Kanjuruhan tragedy on Oct. 3, 2022. Photo: Instagram/@officialpersebaya
Thousands of Persebaya fans hold a vigil for the victims of the Kanjuruhan tragedy on Oct. 3, 2022. Photo: Instagram/@officialpersebaya

One of the most intense rivalries in Indonesian soccer was swept aside in the name of humanity in light of the Kanjuruhan tragedy, as Persebaya fans turned up in the thousands to hold a vigil for the hundreds of Arema fans killed on Oct. 1.

On Monday evening, thousands of bonek — as Persebaya fans are affectionately called — descended upon the Heroes Monument in their city of Surabaya, lighting candles while praying and singing for those who fell in Kanjuruhan Stadium.

Persebaya and Malang’s Arema are two of the most successful soccer clubs in Indonesia. Given the two East Java cities’ geographical proximity, the two sides have developed arguably the fiercest sporting rivalry in the country.

On Oct. 1, after Persebaya defeated Arema 2-3 on the latter’s home turf for the first time in over 20 years, thousands of Arema fans stormed the pitch to express their displeasure towards players and club officials. Police fired tear gas to control the crowd, resulting in a stampede that killed 125 and injured hundreds more.

In Persebaya’s post above, the club called for an end to senseless violence in the beautiful game.

“No more excessive rivalries, no more enmity. All walls must be torn down in the name of one word: humanity,” the post reads.

“There is not a single thing in this world that is as valuable as life.

“Humanity above football.”

After condolences poured in from all around the soccer world, including from Spain’s La Liga, England’s Premier League, and from the game’s governing body FIFA itself, the tribute from Persebaya and its fans may just mean a whole lot more to a grieving Arema. Hopefully this incident will put an end to the hostilities between the two sides.

Yet we must not lose sight of law enforcers’ role in the tragedy, as a death toll of this scale would have likely been avoided had officers refrained from firing tear gas.

More from Kanjuruhan

Kanjuruhan tragedy: National Police launch internal probe over tear gas

National Police chief offers Kanjuruhan victim’s brother a spot in the force

Police justify ‘last resort’ tear gas use in deadly Kanjuruhan soccer riot

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