Vol. 8 No. 24 Desember 2022
Possible Psychological Factors Behind Kanjuruhan Tragedy
Department of Psychology, Universitas Nahdlatul Ulama Indonesia
Division for Applied Social Psychology Research (DASPR)
In October 2022, over 130 Malang’s Arema football supporters, Aremania, died and over 700 others received medical treatment in hospitals (Setyawan, 2022). The tragedy occurred as a result of a clash between security officers and supporters after the match between Arema and Persebaya Surabaya football club in Kanjuruhan Stadium, Malang regency on October 1. Supporters went out to the match arena, which was responded to with tear gassing by officers. Investigation and witnesses (Tribunnews, 2022; Metro TV, 2022; Kompas TV, 2022) revealed that cops shot tear gas at supporters at the tribune to prevent the spread of chaos. Thousands of supporters, including women and children, endeavored to leave the stadium to avoid tear gas which resulted in jostling and trampling leading to deaths. Why did Malang supporters go to the match area and why did police shoot tear gas even though it was forbidden by law? This article explores possible answers to the aforementioned questions from a social-psychological perspective.
There were two possible reasons why Aremania went to the arena: complaining about the loss and giving support to the Arema team. Nevertheless, the motives were questionable because they were aware of the prohibition to enter the soccer course for any reason. Why did Aremania violate the regulation? A psychological framework that can explain the Aremania reaction is the “identity fusion” theory. It says that people who extremely love something (e.g., religion, beliefs, family, organization, group) feel bound to it and are willing to commit anything, including violence, for the subject. Martha Newson (2021) examined this behavior in football fans and found similar expressions between fused fans and fused sympathizers of other groups. Newson also found that the main driving factor of fusion was the love for fellow fans, not the soccer team or town. This finding explained why many other Aremania went down from the stadium tribune to follow their fellows. They expressed solidarity and protected each other from possible violence.
The decision to engage in the mob immediately after some people went to the match area can also be explained by Gustave Le Bon's Crowd theory (1895). It says that people are easy to become involved in a mob because their individual personality disappears and blend with a crowd mentality. They think in a collective mind and follow the same direction. They additionally become impulsive, irritable, incapable to think rationally and critically and view sentiments exaggeratedly. The characteristic potentially increases when they find a reason to express it. In the Kanjuruhan case, beating and tear gassing by police could become a justification to fight back, and it then resulted in wider chaos.
The supporters also possibly desired to harass the Persebaya team since Aremania and Persebaya supporters, Bonek, had shared hatred against each other for years. When Bonek was not allowed to attend the match, as a consequence of multiple clashes in the past, Aremania targeted the Persebaya soccer team as a substitute. The high emotional turmoil of young supporters also potentially pushed them to express their hatred with physical action.
Then, what were the possible psychological factors behind the use of tear gas by police? The Federation Internationale de Football Association’s (FIFA) Stadium Safety and Security Regulations explicitly mention that tear gassing in soccer events is not allowed (Kesslen, 2022; Putri, 2022). It was debated whether Indonesian police knew FIFA’s security guidelines. If they did not know, it indicated the lack of regulation briefings prior to the game, and if they were aware of it but still decided to bring the gas inside the match, it was questionable. A possible psychological factor behind the decision was fear of riots causing the deaths of officers. This fear rose due to multiple murders against officers in the past, such as incidents in Poso, West Papua, terrorist attacks, and many riots targeting security personnel. They triggered concern of the Kanjuruhan assigned officers, as well as their commanders, to react with over-prevention. This preventive effort also explained a possible violation of FIFA’s security guidelines if police convincingly knew the rule. In other words, officers implicitly said that breaking FIFA’s rule, with any consequence for the Indonesian league, would be borne rather than bearing the deaths of personnel.
At the same time, police overcalculated the potential chaos that emerged from Aremania side. It was shown by tear gassing at the supporters in the stadium tribune though many of them possibly did not intend to become involved in the riot but were looking for a way out through the stadium gates. Deadly riots by football fans in the past subconsciously created a negative perspective towards supporters, that supporters were all malignant and pro-violence. Generalization occurred while the ability to see possible normal actions from Aremania disappeared.
How can similar incidents be prevented? Since the Kanjuruhan incident involved psychological motives, efforts to break the issue with psychological approaches should be highly considered. It can be achieved by intensive communication between the police department and football fan clubs to create an anti-violence agreement and reduce negative views among each other. A police-fans small forum and inviting psychologists as consultants are necessary to foster problem-solving.
Kesslen, B. (2022, October 2). Indonesian cops broke FIFA rules against tear gas, set off stampede that killed at least 125. New York Post. Retrieved December 29, 2022, from https://nypost.com/2022/10/02/indonesian-cops-broke-fifa-rules-against-tear-gas-set-off-stampede-that-killed-at-least-125/
Le Bon, G. (1895). The crowd: A study of the popular mind. International Relation and Security Network. https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/125518/1414_LeBon.pdf
Kompas TV. (2022, October 3). Ini kesaksian dari penonton yang selamat dari tragedi Kanjuruhan, korban: Pintu keluar ditahan [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1JiAO7pUt0
Metro TV. (2022, October 11). Kesaksian Kevia Naswah, korban tragedi Kanjuruhan akibat gas air mata [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMJ0ldB1cT8
Putri, D. L. (2022, October 4). Bagaimana aturan penggunaan gas air mata oleh polisi? Kompas. Retrieved December 29, 2022, from https://www.kompas.com/tren/read/2022/10/04/183000765/bagaimana-aturan-penggunaan-gas-air-mata-oleh-polisi-?page=all
Setyawan, H. (2022, November 19). Deretan 5 fakta terbaru kasus tragegi Kanjuruhan. Tempo. Retrieved January 5, 2023, from https://nasional.tempo.co/read/1658714/deretan-5-fakta-terbaru-kasus-tragedi-kanjuruhan.
Social Science Bites. (2021, June 7). Martha Newson on identity fusion. Social Science Space. https://www.socialsciencespace.com/2021/06/martha-newson-on-identity-fusion/
Tribunnews. (2022, October 6). 11 polisi diduga tembak gas air mata saat tragedi Kanjuruhan, lebih dari 7 buah ke tribun selatan [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcnMocr-BkE