Are African football stadiums too dangerous?

By Dave Lee
BBC World Service

Media caption,
The BBC's Will Ross in Nairobi: "A lot of people were trying to get into the stadium at the same time"

Africa's abysmal record in safely holding football matches is once again under scrutiny after a stadium stampede took the lives of eight football fans last month.

One official from football's world governing body Fifa described the tragedy as a "classic case" of a badly organised football match.

Supporters were crushed as they tried to enter Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi, Kenya, to watch the biggest fixture in the domestic footballing calendar - a Premier League match between Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards.

To minimize the risk of further casualties, the game was halted for just a few minutes before being restarted.

Six people were killed at the stadium, while two more died in hospital as a result of their injuries.

Fifa's director of stadiums and security Walter Gagg told the BBC that in much of Africa, unfit infrastructure and poor organisation is crippling the continent's ability to safely put on football matches.

He said the Nyayo stadium tragedy had not been run following Fifa's safety guidelines, or that of the African football governing body, Caf.

He added that he believed most African football authorities simply cannot deal with large numbers of fans.

"Most of the stadiums in Africa, they do not have numbered seats," he told World Football on the BBC World Service.

"They just have some seats in concrete; they do not have individual seats. That means that they never know if there are 20,000 or 25,000 spectators inside the stadium. As long as we do not have under control the tickets sold, we never will have control of the spectators.

"We believe this was the case in Nairobi."


The problem of overcrowding is magnified due to major problems with ticket distribution, Mr Gagg explained.

"In Africa, you cannot get the ticket the day before the match because the danger is that tickets will be sold on the black market.

"Another danger is that the tickets will be stolen. They open in the morning of the match, from nine o'clock in the morning until 12. Thousands and thousands of people just waiting to buy a ticket.

"They go to the match and they go three or four hours before kick-off inside the stadium, they will not move because when they move, they have no seat.

"They have nothing to eat, and you can imagine what happens in such a stadia when it comes to panic. Pushing from behind, pushing from the front."

While Africa's first World Cup, held earlier this year in South Africa, passed off successfully and without major incident, all the stadia in use for the competition were purpose-built at a cost of millions of dollars.

Crucially, security, ticketing and safety measures were managed by Fifa - not local authorities.

Before that competition, 16 people were injured during a stampede in a World Cup warm-up game between Nigeria and South Korea.

For Kenya's international fixtures, Fifa takes control, but in domestic competitions it is up to local football authorities, police and security forces to run the matches safely - something Mr Gagg says Fifa has taken steps over the past four years to help with.

In the immediate future, however, Fifa will be working closely with KFL to discover what caused the Nyayo Stadium stampede, and what now can be done.

"We are asking the national association of Kenya to give us a report to let us know exactly what happened in order that we know the reason why this took place," Mr Gagg said.

"Then we have to request from the national association that they will make sure in the coming future this can [not] happen."

Blame game

In the wake of the incident, the Kenyan government has told fans that everything will be done in order to keep big sporting events safe, and has commissioned a report into the incident.

Stadium tragedies have tainted African football over the past decade, the most devastating of which took place in Ghana as 126 people were crushed to death at the Accra Sports Stadium in 2001.

In March 2009, 19 fans died at the Houphouet-Boigny stadium in Abidjan as Ivory Coast played Malawi in a World Cup qualifying match. Fifa fined the Ivorian Football Federation and put measures in place to keep future matches safe.

Image caption,
The World Cup in South Africa passed off without incident - under Fifa control

And the Nyayo National Stadium - which for a short period was sponsored by Coca-Cola until a naming dispute prematurely ended the deal - has been in the safety spotlight before.

In 2005, a schoolboy died in a crush ahead of a World Cup qualifier against Morocco as fans rushed to get tickets.

After that game, Fifa banned the use of the stadium for six months while a report was compiled. Few changes came into force following the investigations - and two years later the national team began playing fixtures there again.

As Africa comes to terms with this latest disaster, responsibility is something no sporting or government body in Kenya seems prepared to take.

"Right now, there's no need to blame anyone," insists the Kenyan Premier League's chief executive, Jack Oguda, talking to the BBC's John Nene.

"The government has already started doing the investigations.

"We are already discussing on the events of that day and are co-operating with the government to get a full and conclusive report on what really caused the stampede and the loss of lives in Kenya."

Elsewhere, Mohammed Hatimy, the head of the country's football governing body Football Kenya Limited (FKL), says his organisation had no part in organising the match.

"I don't see why we should be involved [in the investigation], because we did not participate in any area in preparing this game.

"We are banning the stadium from all football activities."

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