LESSONS YET TO BE LEARNT FROM 2001 MAY 9 DISASTER

There is an Akan adage which paraphrases a man only learns from experience; an advice may not turn him away from his deeds. Perhaps, that is what is happening with fans of Ghana’s two top clubs, Kumasi Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak. After the 2001 May 9 Disaster, which claimed 126 lives, efforts were frantically put in place by stakeholders to prevent such kind of a disaster. For example, the police were taken through a series of activities to be able to handle a crowd. They were, consequently, advised to use tear gas sparingly in dispersing a rioting crowd for instance. Supporters groups also sprung up to educate football fans on how to comport themselves at stadiums. The Chapters (Hearts), Circles(Kotoko) and even the Mountains(Okwawu) and the Mines(AshantiGold) put in place measures to educate their members. The erstwhile National Sports Council also went to greater lengths to engage the services of experts to advise contractors [of our stadiums] on the need to make adequate provisions to manage disasters or better still lessen its effects on spectators.

All these measures seem to have gone down the gurgler in my opinion. Before I talk about events before and after the called-off 2011 May 9 Commemoration match, let me touch on incidents that I think football administrators should quickly address. They may be described as ‘May 9 mini-disasters’

Mark Vivien Foe

Firstly, the presence of medics at every match should not be the preserve of only matches involving Kumasi Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak or Eleven Wise and Hasaacas –  matches the Premier League Board has tagged ‘A’. Secondly, their presence should not be at the Accra Stadium or Baba Yara Sports Stadium or the Tamale Sports Stadium only. Medics should be available any where a match, sanctioned by the Ghana Football Association, is taking place. Last year, a player of erstwhile Kessben FC lost his dear life in a league game at the Carl Reindorf Park. Bartholomew Yeboah’s life would have been saved if the medics present had been proactive. Just last two weeks, I was at Tema Newtown, where a Division II player – Michael Dzigbordi Agormor had lost his dear life on the pitch. According to the coach, the player would have survived if there was a first aid medic around. After the death of players like Mark Vivien Foe of Cameroon and Antonio Puerta of Sevilla, the world governing body of football, FIFA, has been very insistent on the need for all football associations to take the medical aspect of the sport seriously. There has been a situation where the medical committee of Ghana’s senior team faulted by allowing an injured player to join a squad for a tournament. Such decisions are risky and I don’t think FIFA would have taken such an action likely. The issue came to light when the player was needed most. Any other ‘amateur’ player, would have played even in that condition and your guess is as good as mine as to what might have happened. It is in this light that I call on the GFA to pay especial attention to the health of players not only in the national teams but in the lower divisions of football.

126 soccer fans

Now back to the 14th May, 2011, when the 10th year commemoration match of the May 9 Disaster was to be played. Fans had travelled from far and near to watch Hearts and Kotoko honour the 126 soccer fans who lost their lives at the stadium. Some fans may have come to watch their beloved players but the main aim of the match is to commemorate the stadium disaster that hit Ghana ten years ago. Hearts failed to play in the match because they claimed their rivals Kotoko had not honoured the elements of the match regarding the featuring of guest and retired players. Ironically, a match which was to remind all of a disaster that occurred ten years ago nearly resulted in another disaster as fans and officials alike brandished insults at one another. Whereas the fans were disappointed with organizers, officials were exchanging words as to what ‘guest and retired players’ meant. In a typically traditional country as Ghana is, where the dead is given respect, none of them had at the back of their minds that the match is to honour the dead. Instead, the stadium was strewn with pandemonium as no one seem to know what was happening. What a disgrace! Even foreigners, who had come to watch the match left disappointed. But for the calmness of the police under that circumstance, another disaster might have occurred trust me. It seems the police are the only stakeholders who have learnt their lessons as I was impressed with the way they handled the irate fans.

Friendly atmosphere at stadiums

But more has to be done about fans who still go to the stadiums very belligerent. Football is fun though tensions rise sometimes. It behoves on all to comport themselves so we can have a very friendly atmosphere at our stadiums. After the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, I have realized the attendance of women at stadiums has seen a tremendous increase and those uncultured ones should not scare them away with their uncouth behaviour. We have to learn from the May 9 disaster.