Monday, June 2, 2008

Overcrowding at Fault for Deaths in Liberia-Gambia Match

Stadium issues have reared their ugly face in Africa again as at least eight Liberian football fans died this weekend in Monrovia, Liberia during their country's opening World Cup qualifier against Gambia.

A BBC correspondent in Monrovia says many fake tickets were in circulation, leading to overcrowding at the 33,000 capacity Samuel K. Doe stadium.

As the problem became apparent, UN peacekeepers closed the gates to the stadium, leaving thousands outside.

One fan told the BBC that Liberian police were reselling tickets to fans.

"We saw people, security men, entering, getting tickets from those who had crossed over boards, jumping over the fence and bringing the same tickets back outside, selling them to people for a little or nothing," said Lee Francis, who was unable to get into the game.

The Liberian Football Association (LFA) believe the deaths were caused mainly by suffocation at one of the ground's crowded gates.

The secretary general of the LFA George Williams admitted his association was responsible, but said the situation could have been much worse.

"Generally, we know we had a situation where there were more people at the game than the stadium could cater for," he said.

"The repercussions were that there was overcrowding at a particular gate and that then led to suffocation, which is unfortunate."

"We had fire trucks that were there to spill water over the crowd and that really helped the overall situation. Them spraying water over the people reduced the level of suffocation and also helped the crowd calm down."

"Yes, we (the LFA) are responsible, but things could have been worse.

"At the moment, we know that eight people have been killed. There are injuries as well, but these are not that significant."

Meanwhile the president of the Football Association of Zambian (Faz), Kalusha Bwalya, has told BBC Sport that the tragedy in Liberia should be a warning to the rest of the continent.

The former African Footballer of the Year also recently inspected safety and security at the main stadium in Sierra Leone on behalf of football's world governing body FIFA.

"In terms of the ongoing qualifiers this should be a wake up call for everybody to ensure that we don't have a repeat where we are going to endanger our spectators," he said.

"Eighty per cent lies with the associations in Africa - so that we provide the necessary security and the necessary rules and regulations so people without tickets don't go to the stadium.

"Twenty per cent lies with the supporters themselves - so that they won't want to come to the stadium without a ticket and thereby cause a problem."

MY POV: This is a situation that could have been avoided. But who prevents these situations from happening? Football associations? FIFA?

Maybe the responsibility lies on the supporters, who stream by the hundreds into games they don't have tickets to.

But then again, can one blame them for wanting to see their superstars perform in World Cup qualifiers?

Stricter security needs to be a priority for future World Cup qualifiers.

We're not talking about security guards who exacerbate the situation by selling fake tickets to the throngs. We mean FIFA-run security forces that will make sure the proper amount of people get into the stadiums with the least amount of corruption.

It's all well and good to want the stadiums to be safe for the supporters.
But when too many people are let inside, not even the most modern of stadia will hold under the pressure.

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