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AFCON stadium disaster: Eyewitness claims officials closed the gates

By Gowon Akpodonor
26 January 2022   |   3:54 am
An Eyewitness to the disaster at the Africa Cup of Nations game in Cameroon, which has so far claimed eight lives including two children, say stadium officials close the games before the crush.

Comoros’ midfielder Fouad Bachirou (C) is consoled by teammates after Cameroon won the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 round of 16 football match between Cameroon and Comoros at Stade d’Olembe in Yaounde on January 24, 2022. (Photo by Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP)

An Eyewitness to the disaster at the Africa Cup of Nations game in Cameroon, which has so far claimed eight lives including two children, say stadium officials close the games before the crush.

Video footage circulated on social media appears to show fans pushing through a barrier to enter the Paul Biya stadium to watch the match between hosts Cameroon and Comoros.

Two children, aged six and 14, are among the dead, and seven people were seriously injured. Ayesha Mumbi told NationalWorld that she witnessed the gates being closed by officials who were carrying out Covid health checks on supporters.

She said: “There are a series of gates you have to go through before you get into the stadium and I think most of them had already passed the health checking system and when they got to the final gate they were asked again for health checks and that created a lot of crowd.

A still from a camera video showing fans entering the stadium

“I think some of them thought the game was about to start so they started getting agitated and things blew off. The pushing started and it got really scary and I ran away from there straight away. I saw how it unfolded before running for my life.”

UK and international media have been labelling the disaster as a “stampede” – a word with racial connotations – which shifts the implication of blame onto fans. A video taken outside the ground shows fans gently running towards the stadium, but this does not explain the crush and is not a stampede.

Reports are emerging that the requirement for fans to have a proof of Covid vaccination was reducing attendance at Africa Cup of Nations games, in a nation where only 3% of the population have had any vaccination, according to the latest Our World In Data figures.

As the inquest into the stadium disaster unfolds, questions will be asked whether the demand to show vaccination passes and increased security risks further situations where fans attempt to force their way into games.

Low attendance at the first-round matches has prompted AFCON organisers to encourage more Cameroonians to attend, by giving out free tickets and organising mass transport.

Cameroonian President Paul Biya ordered an investigation into the “tragic incident”. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has also launched its own investigation and demanded a report from the local organising committee by Friday.

A key question that must be addressed is whether a decision to encourage more fans to attend matches was in conflict with stadium officials maintaining strict Covid vaccination checks at the entrance.

Officials said about 50,000 people tried to attend the match. The stadium has a capacity of 60,000 but it was not meant to be more than 80% full for the game because of Covid restrictions.

At least 50 have also been injured in the crush. A local nurse, Olinga Prudence, told Associated Press that some of the injured were in a “desperate condition.”

CAF President Patrice Motsepe said no more matches would take place at the stadium until there was an “absolute guarantee” fans would be safe. He said: “Clearly there were failures – there were things that should have been foreseen.”
Afcon 2021: Quarter-final at Olembe Stadium to be moved after fatal crush

Last updated on 55 minutes ago55 minutes ago.From the section Sport Africa
The Olembe Stadium in Yaounde
The Olembe Stadium held the Nations Cup opening ceremony and is due to host the tournament’s final on 6 February

The Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final due to be held at the Olembe Stadium on Sunday will be moved after a fatal crush outside the ground on Monday.

At least eight people were killed and 38 injured as fans struggled to get access to a match between hosts Cameroon and Comoros in Yaounde.

All Nations Cup matches will remember victims with a minute’s silence.

The Confederation of African Football and world governing body Fifa have sent condolences to the affected families.

Two children, aged eight and 14, were among the dead, and seven people were seriously injured in the crush.

Caf president Patrice Motsepe visited injured supporters in hospital and the scene outside the Olembe Stadium on Tuesday, and later said he was “sad and hurt” by the incident.

Motsepe added that Caf must take responsibility for the crush along with the local organising committee and the Cameroonian government.

“We have a duty to find out exactly what happened and more importantly to put in preventative measures to ensure that what happened never happens again,” he said.

“There were deficiencies, weaknesses, failures, things that should have been foreseen.

“When people lose their lives you must be angry and demand explanations and guarantees that it will never happen again.”

The Olembe Stadium, newly constructed to host the tournament, has a capacity of 60,000 but was not meant to be more than 80% full because of Covid-19 restrictions.

However, match officials were quoted as saying that as many as 50,000 people were trying to attend Monday’s match.

The ground held the opening ceremony and is due to host a semi-final and the Nations Cup final on Sunday, 6 February.

Sunday’s quarter-final is now set to be played at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde instead.
Condolences paid by Cameroon squad and Fifa
Olembe Stadium

Cameroon captain Vincent Aboubakar issued a statement on behalf of the squad, saying the Indomitable Lions “deeply wail” after hearing about fatalities and injuries.

“To the families of the victims, [we] extend their heart-felt condolences and wish a speedy recovery to the injured,” Aboubakar said.

“The Indomitable Lions urge the football fans in Cameroon and Africa to be highly disciplined and responsible within and outside the stadiums so that football matches in general and the 2021 Nations Cup remain festive moments.

“[We] also call for the preservation of security, brotherhood and shared happiness in the stadiums.”

Football’s world governing body Fifa has sent its “deepest condolences” to families and friends of the victims of a crush outside a stadium at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.

“Fifa sends its deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims who lost their lives following the tragic incident that took place at Olembe Stadium,” the statement from Fifa said.

“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 (Fecafoot) at this difficult moment.”

Cameroonian President Paul Biya ordered an investigation into the “tragic incident”, while Caf is in in “constant communication” with the Cameroonian government and the local organizing committee and has also launched its own investigation.

‘Families will cry’ – Djemba-Djemba on difficult evening for Cameroon

Former Cameroon midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba attended the last-16 game, which Cameroon won 2-1, and said news of the incident was “heart-breaking”.

“It is very shocking as people were coming to the stadium to watch football, and people have died,” the 40-year-old, who had a spell at Manchester United from 2003 to 2005, told the BBC World Service.

“We were inside and suddenly we heard people had died outside the stadium.

“It is the worst possible news because Cameroon did everything to play the tournament in Cameroon and built big stadiums. I think for me it is very sad.

“It will be difficult (for people to focus back on the tournament) because families will cry. Some people go to the stadium to support Cameroon, to support their team play, but it is the worst thing to happen to Cameroon.”

Ivory Coast coach Patrice Beaumelle, whose side face Egypt in the last 16 on Wednesday, also sent his condolences to victims’ families.

“The team is trying to stay focused on football although as human being they cannot be indifferent,” Beaumelle said.