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International: FIFA vows to improve Indonesian football safety after stadium tragedy

President of football’s world governing body met with Indonesia’s president on Tuesday and pledged to help improve stadium safety to prevent a repeat of a tragedy in which police fired tear gas at a match, causing a crush that killed 132 people as spectators attempted to flee.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said it will 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 see matches, they are safe and secure.”

He said FIFA will work closely with the government, the Asian Football Confederation and Indonesia’s Football Association to ensure that the Under-20 FIFA World Cup to be hosted by Indonesia next year will run smoothly.

“My presence here is a sign of a new departure for football in Indonesia,” Infantino said in a joint news conference with Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

“What I can guarantee to the president, what I can guarantee to all the people of Indonesia, is FIFA is here with you.”

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

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

It said police on duty had no knowledge that the use of tear gas is prohibited at football stadiums and used it “indiscriminately” in the pitch, the stands and outside the stadium, causing more than 42,000 spectators inside the 36,000-seat stadium to rush to 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 had ignored regulations, and urged its chairman and executive committee to resign.

Police fired the tear gas at the end of the game when fans flooded the pitch in anger after their team, Arema FC, was defeated in a home match for the first time in 23 years by rival Persebaya Surabaya. The match was attended only by Arema fans as organisers had banned Persebaya supporters because of Indonesia’s history of violent football rivalries.

National Police have removed the police chiefs of East Java province and Malang district and suspended nine other officers over violations of professional ethics.

Authorities have said they are bringing criminal charges against six people for negligence, including the head of the league organiser, 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 jail if found guilty.

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

Gaining the right to host next year’s Under-20 World Cup was a major milestone in Indonesia’s football development, raising hopes that a successful tournament would help turn around longstanding problems.

Widodo insisted that Indonesia will host the tournament professionally and according to FIFA safety standards.

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

He said his administration agreed to completely transform Indonesian football to ensure all aspects are run according to FIFA security standards.

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