The deadly crush outside a stadium at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon was caused by an access gate being closed for “inexplicable reasons”, according to the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
Patrice Motsepe has called for an immediate investigation into the disaster in which eight people died and 38 were injured, seven of whom are in a serious condition.
The carnage happened ahead of Cameroon’s last-16 tie with Comoros on Monday night.
The organisers have moved the next match scheduled at the Olembe stadium, Sunday’s quarter-final, to the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde, the Cameroon capital.
It remains to be seen if the Paul Biya Stadium will host one of the semi-finals as well as the final on February 6, as previously planned.
Cameroon President Paul Biya also ordered an investigation into the tragedy, which came a day after at least 17 people died after a fire set off a series of explosions at a nightclub in Yaounde.
A witness said the stampede at the south entrance of the stadium happened after supporters were directed by security officials toward an entrance gate that was locked. The gate was eventually opened, the witness said, causing a surge and people were trampled. Children were caught up in the stampede, the witness said.
“When the security guys finally began opening the gates, with all the anxiety and after having been locked out … people pushed the security guys away and forced themselves inside,” said the witness, Marie-Therese Asongafack. “That’s where it all began … By the time I found myself in front, there were people on the ground being trampled on.”
Medical help wasn’t immediately available, “so people were just trying their basic first aid on victims,” Asongafack said. “I saw a child less than 10 years old, lifeless. Guys were trying to revive him.”
Motsebe said that there will be a meeting with organisers on Wednesday and that investigation report must be submitted by Friday.
“There is no excuse for what has happened. We must show responsibility when people lose their lives and are injured,” Motsepe said on Tuesday.
“What happened yesterday in terms of the proximity of people being allowed to the stadium in a manner that is not properly coordinated and governed will never happen again,” he added.
“I went to see where the people lost their lives and you see it’s a gate. That gate was supposed to be open. Because if it was open, they would have walked through and it was closed for inexplicable reasons.
“If that gate was open as it was supposed to, we wouldn’t have had this problem we have now, this loss of life.
“So of course, as part of the hearing, we want to know who closed that gate, who was responsible for that gate.
“Clearly there were deficiencies, clearly there were failures. There were weaknesses. There are things that should have been foreseen. We have to take emergency and urgent steps now.”
The stadium, which hosted the tournament’s opening ceremony, was built in preparation for the delayed competition, which kicked off earlier this month.
Stadiums have been operating at 80 per cent capacity during the Africa Cup of Nations due to restrictions placed on organisers because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But following a low turnout in the first round games at brand new stadiums Cameroon authorities had thrown open stadium gates, organised mass transport and given out free tickets to lure fans.
A minute silence will be observed before all remaining matches.
Sources: Reuters, AP