Ask me whether football fans have learnt any lessons from Ghana’s worst stadium disaster and I will answer with an emphatic ‘NO’. Eleven years after that fatal incident and fans still go to different stadia in the country and continue to put up untoward behavior to the detriment of other fans with well-meant intentions. It is quite disheartening how fans pounce on referees and beat them to points of death; how coaches give tell-tale clues regarding what fans may want do to referees in the future; and how security personnel arbitrate helplessly stadium altercations because a certain white paper bars them from wielding guns at stadia. Honestly, I am of a strong opinion that there should be a review of issues relating to the 2001 May 9 Disaster.
10th Anniversary Disaster
Last year, marking the 10th anniversary of this ‘tear gas’ disaster came across as a time to take stock and review the inappropriate actions of some fans that led to the loss of the 126 lives. It rather exposed the hidden cracks in the hitherto laborious efforts that have been invested into curbing a similar disaster.
Officials of Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko had been briefed on the regulations of the 10th Anniversary match then scheduled to be played at the Accra Sports Stadium, the same venue where the disaster struck. Hearts of Oak felt they had a crucial league match against New Edubiase United so decided to field more of the required guest players including ex-Black Queens goalie Memunatu Abiba Suleimana. Asante Kotoko, on the other hand, paraded a first team as a result of perhaps a thirst to defeat Hearts of Oak on any day. Apparently, fans of Hearts of Oak grew disgruntled about the selection of their technical handlers and rather clambered over the barricades and stormed the inner perimeter to register their displeasure. Word of Hearts of Oak’s selection spread like fire on the contours of petrol spill as fans, who had been scrambling to enter, forced their way against one of the gates and teemed into the magnificent edifice as if to swallow their club’s administrators. It took the rapid response team of the police unit to quieten the quasi-insurrection. Ostensibly, the fans did not want Asante Kotoko to assume the bragging rights.
The incident kept me wondering whether these fans, and by extension the Ghanaian football populace, have learnt any lessons from that ‘Black Wednesday’ disaster. Perhaps, much has not been done over the years to educate fans on the need to be peaceable and peaceful even against the run of play. Each and every year, seminars are held in order to smoothen the fluted edges regarding the prevention of stadium disasters. Nonetheless, Ghana continues to record crowd troubles at least at a venue each and every premier league season. Surprisingly though, Ghanaian football fans are one of the most tolerant in the world. But this accolade is only applicable when a Ghanaian team is playing outside the borders of the country. Hardly is there news of Ghanaian fans misbehaving after the Black Stars or a club side lose a match away. It is rather the obverse that happens: Ghanaian fans are grossly attacked on foreign lands even when their teams lose. Ironically, Hearts and Kotoko fans would rather want to fight each other on homesoil. Many efforts have been put in place to curb this esoteric form of in-fighting. The various national supporters unions have put in efforts to educate registered members on how to render unflinching support to national teams, or dare I say the Black Stars. This has, to a marginal extent, minimized stadium troubles.
One issue worth taking note of is a possible review of the Sam Okudzeto Commission’s recommendations especially regarding the fact that security personnel do not fire tear gas or wield guns at stadia. I guess it is well meant but it also affords these same security personnel an opportunity to shirk their responsibilities. They usually feel empty and thus tend to feel more like fans than law-enforcing officers. I once visited the Accra Sports Stadium during a crucial football match and decided to stay outside the grounds in order to assess the security situation during such a period. It was pathetic! There were no single policemen at the car parks and the only few I saw were rushing into the main arena to catch the action. I believe all this is happening because of the whitepaper barring the police from wielding their symbol of authority in a stadium. A review of the recommendations at this point is what may be needed to stop fans who have recently developed the habit of attacking police officers at the least provocation because they think the officers have no defense weapons.
It is also high time the Premier League Board of the Ghana Football Association reviewed its rivalry ratings for certain matches. I know for a fact that a Hearts-Kotoko match is rated ‘A’ in terms of tension and rivalry. Thus, security during matches involving these two sides is more than doubled. It is worth noticing that there are other rivalries that are emerging in the premier league and so there should be beefed-up security at some venues. I know for a fact that a club like New Edubiase United changed venue from the Obuasi’s Len Clay Stadium because of the underlying reason of an intense rivalry burgeoning between them and Ashanti Gold Sporting Club. With these emerging rivalries, it will be appropriate if the PLB liaises with security officers about matches that should require additional security.
Every year much effort is put into creating the awareness of the responsibility of football fans at the stadium but in its eleventh year, the May 9 Disaster should not only be a ritual between supporters of Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko but also all fans of Ghana football so we do not record any more fatal disasters at our stadia.