Football may not be as dangerous a sport to watch as it was back in the 1980s, but it remains a bit hit-and-miss safety-wise. The penultimate weekend of January demonstrated that dangers still exist very starkly.
Newcastle fans evoke memories of Gate C at Hillsborough
At Elland Road on Saturday 22nd January, during the build-up to a fixture between Leeds United and Newcastle United, four of the turnstiles at the visitors end suddenly broke down. These were the only intended entry point to the ground for approximately two thousand seven hundred spectators. As the stranded Newcastle fans tried to use alternative turnstiles, the pressure began to build until quite a serious crush formed.
Although all supporters were able to enter eventually without injuries, there was a lot of anger at the poor maintenance of the turnstiles, and the general lack of seriousness with which the Elland Road stewards treated the problem. Recalling how the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989 had involved a similar situation developing at malfunctioning turnstiles, the attitude implied is disturbingly casual.
The West Yorkshire Police has announced it will investigate.
Actual disaster strikes in Cameroon
Barely 48 hours later, outright disaster struck at the Africa Cup of Nations. Near 8pm local time, the Olembe/Paul Biya Stadium in Yaounde was about to host a round-of-16 match between Cameroon and Comoros, when there was an unguided stampede of fans on the outer perimeter. The police had closed an outer entry gate, apparently telling the large queues still waiting for access that they would not be let in until half-time in the match. Many who had tickets were understandably furious at that, and, less forgivably, started pushing those ahead of them, and piling pressure on the gate. The gate was reopened to ease pressure, but the fans poured through out of control, and a large number went to ground to be trampled on by those behind them.
The stadium’s capacity is 50,000, but attendance was reduced to 40,000 due to Covid-19 concerns. Reports suggesting fans were ticketless should be treated with caution, as they are often difficult to check, but the turn-out does initially appear to have been larger than the ticket allocation, implying that the reports are correct.
At least eight were killed in the stampede, including one child, and dozens more were injured. One of those injured was a recently-born baby, but fortunately the infant was rushed to hospital in time to receive life-saving treatment.
Startlingly, the match went ahead, and Cameroon won 2-1, for what it was worth.
The next match scheduled for the stadium, a quarter-final over the final weekend of January, has been relocated to the neighbouring Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo. The disaster is now also under investigation.
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