from ROSY SADOU in Yaoundé, Cameroon
YAOUNDE – THE demise of eight people during the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon is the latest in a series of carnages to turn stadia in the continent into death traps.
In most cases, it would seem authorities, law enforcers, stadium personnel and fans themselves are not learning from the lessons of the recurrent bloodbath that, in the continent, dates back to about five decades ago.
The latest stampede on Monday left a trail of tragedy after restless fans jostled to watch a Last 16 AFCON match between the hosts and the Comoros at the Olembe Stadium in the capital Yaoundé.
It marred what was one of the most exciting matches of the 24-team tournament thus far. Cameroon eventually won 2-1 to book a berth in the quarterfinals.
No less than 38 people were also injured in the stamped as restless fans rushed into the 60 000-capacity stadium, which according to COVID-19 regulations must not carry 48 000 fans, which is 80 percent.
However, initial reports indicate around 50 000 spectators tried to attend the much-anticipated match.
Fans overwhelmed a barrier at one of the entrances and reportedly caved causing the stampede.
The now-called Yaoundé Stadium Disaster has brought to the fore the failings by some stakeholders and fans, which fuel the seemingly unending loss of lives at stadia.
More than ten such tragedies have been documented in Africa since the first incident reported in Egypt in February 1974.
Then, at least 48 fans were crushed before the kickoff of a friendly between local side, Zamalek and Dukla Prague of Czechoslovakia at the former’s stadium.
Up to 80 000 people reportedly tried to access the stadium, despite the capacity at the time being 40 000.
The match was subsequently cancelled.
Also in Egypt, in 2012, 74 people were killed and more than 500 were injured at the Port Said Stadium after spectator fights and ensuing riots caused a stampede.
It was a match between local rivals Masry and Al Ahly.
The worst tragedy by casualties is the Accra Sports Stadium disaster in May 2001 when 126 people lost their lives.
A match featuring Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko ended prematurely after two late goals by the former incensed opposing fans, resulting in fans brawling.
The stadium degenerated into a death trap after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, with some exit gates locked.
Fans were complicit with their riotous behavior while a probe indicted police for over-reacting.
The previous month, South Africa’s Ellis Park Stadium disaster claimed 43 lives at the Soweto derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.
Ever a crowd-puller, the match attracted a capacity crowd of 60 000 but reports suggested a further 30 000 were let in. Some reports indicate 120 000 people were at the stadium.
A stampede was inevitable.
The final inquiry concluded that poor crowd control and bribed security personnel admitting fans without tickets into the stadium were major causes.
A previous encounter between Chiefs and Pirates in 1991 culminated in the death of 42 fans during a stampede also known as the Oppenheimer Stadium disaster.
Local fans have a notoriety of turning up late for matches, triggering a rush, and disregarding authorities’ calls not to loiter at sold-out venues eager to force entry.
Lessons apparently were not learnt from the sides’ meetings as two people were killed in a crush while trying to enter the FNB Stadium in 2017.
International matches have not been spared, like the 2009 Houphouët-Boigny stampede before a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier between hosts Ivory Coast and Malawi.
Nineteen people were killed and 135 were injured. Police fired tear gas into the crowds resulting in the crush.
The match went ahead, the hosts winning 5-0.
Officials blamed ticketless football fans for the stampede.
The last catastrophe before the disaster in Cameroon was the September 2018 crush at the Estadio 11 de Novembro in Luanda, Angola, where five people died.
The stampede occurred after officials failed to open access gates after the 0-0 draw.
A crush ensued when desperate fans were finally let out.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has initiated investigations into the incident in Cameroon.
“We have a duty to find out what happened,” Patrice Motsepe, CAF President, said.
“We have to put preventative measures to ensure what happened never happens again,” he told a media conference.
FIFA sent its condolences to the families and friends of the victims.
“The thoughts and prayers of the global football community are with the victims, the ones who have been injured in this incident, and all the staff of both CAF and the Cameroonian Football Association at this difficult moment,” it stated.
– CAJ News