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“They were war scenes. We saw people dying in the locker room.” This is how Brazilian goalkeeper Adilson dos Santos, who plays for the Indonesian club Arema and witnessed the tragedy that took the lives of at least 125 people on Saturday, defines to EFE the moments of terror in the Kanjuruhan stadium.
“It was a real battlefield, it was war scenes. It looked like the war between Ukraine and Russia and not a soccer field. There was only chaos and panic,” the player summarized in a telephone interview with Efe, granted from the Indonesian city of Malang – which on Saturday was the scene of one of the worst tragedies in soccer history.
The spiral of violence started when some 3,000 fans of the host team Arema stormed the pitch after a 2-3 loss to local rivals Persebaya Surabaya and clashed with security forces, who responded with tear gas canisters, causing panic among the spectators.
“They started bringing some of the more seriously injured inside the locker room. We saw people dying, I went into complete despair,” recalls Santos on the island of Java.
As soon as the final whistle blew, when the confusion began, the players, members of the technical committee, and referees of the match quickly headed for the locker room, where they were confined for about five hours until the situation was under control.
“At first we only heard the noise of the (tear gas) bombs, of the blows, screams, crying and people breaking everything. But then they started bringing in the wounded, some of them already dead. Many were blue from lack of oxygen and were dying in front of us,” he recalls.
The tragedy reached its peak when the fans “killed one of the policemen,” leading to a “harsh response” from the officers, who threw tear gas bombs into the crowd and triggered an uncontrolled stampede that has left at least 125 dead, including 17 minors, and more than three hundred injured.
“Suddenly, a cloud of that toxic smoke engulfed the whole place. And then chaos broke out. Many people fell down, fainted, were trampled, inhaled all that smoke,” says Santos.
“We had nowhere to run, we were waiting for the moment when (the fans) would come for us. Those were the worst hours of my life,” added the 32-year-old player, who is from the southern state of Parana and has been with the Indonesian club for almost two years.
When they were finally able to leave the locker room safely, albeit, under escort, the players were met with a “brutal scene of total chaos.”
“We went out and saw the whole stadium damaged, people bleeding, others in shock, others intoxicated choking. There were many wounded, bodies lying around, and burned cars. I just wanted to get out alive,” Santos said.
Images of the violent riots at the Kanjuruhan stadium circled the world and generated a wave of global shock, as well as calls against violence in sport.
Witnesses and survivors have also complained of excessive use of force by police, prompting the Indonesian government to announce Monday an independent investigation to scrutinize the alleged brutality of security officers.
The authorities also announced a series of measures to evaluate the rules for holding soccer matches and to intensify security at stadiums in the country, which is known for its strong rivalry between clubs and where outbreaks of violence are not isolated cases.