AFCON stadium crush caused by ‘inexplicable’ gate closure – CAF president

·4-min read

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.

Patrice Motsepe has called for an immediate investigation into the disaster which saw a number of people killed and reportedly as many as 40 injured ahead of Cameroon’s last-16 tie with Comoros on Monday night.

Reports say fans were involved in a crush as they attempted to make their way into the 60,000-capacity Paul Biya Stadium in Olembe outside the Cameroon capital of Yaounde.

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Motsepe pointed to an error with access in and around the stadium as the reason behind the incident.

“Some of the people came just to be part of the atmosphere,” he told a press conference. “Including those who didn’t have tickets, so I think we do accept that thousands of people more than what was expected did arrive.

“Having said that, we will have very tough and very hard discussions behind closed doors and I’m confident because of the discussions I had this morning.

“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.

“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.

“I know that legally the LOC (local organising committee) is responsible for the safety and security but we are their partners and we have to make sure that the safety of every single spectator is our primary concern.

The tragedy happened before Cameroon’s Africa Cup of Nations match with Comoros (Themba Hadebe/AP)

“There must be a committee that’s set up to immediately investigate what happened and in that context to find out who was supposed to do what and who did not do and perform their responsibilities. We want that report by Friday.”

Motsepe confirmed Sunday’s scheduled quarter-final at the Olembe stadium has now been moved to the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in 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.

Motsepe did, however, say he remains happy with the safety measures that were in place ahead of the game.

“I am involved in so many ventures worldwide,” he added.

“My duty is always to not just take responsible steps but also I am more inclined to be as conservative as possible to put measures in place that minimises the loss of life.

“So I’m happy and pleased with the measures that are in place, I’m extremely disappointed and sad and hurt with what has happened yesterday.

“Everything possible is going to be done to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Cameroon fans at the Africa Cup of Nations tournament (Themba Hadebe/AP)

“Clearly there were deficiencies, clearly there were failures. There were weaknesses. There are things that should have been foreseen.

“There is zero tolerance, absolutely zero tolerance on circumstances which could result in people being injured at the stadium or people losing their lives. We have to take emergency and urgent steps now.”

While no official confirmation on the number of fatalities was forthcoming on Tuesday, world governing body FIFA issued a statement in relation to the incident.

“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 during the Africa Cup of Nations fixture between Cameroon and Comoros,” it read.

“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.”

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.

Cameroon won the game 2-1 to set up a quarter-final date with Gambia, with Comoros forced to play 5ft 8in left-back Chaker Alhadhur in goal due to Covid and injury absences.