Authorities in Cameroon have blamed a deadly stadium crush at the African Cup of Nations tournament on a “massive” influx of ticketless fans who were late for a game involving the host team and tried to force their way inside to avoid COVID-19 screening and security checks.
In response, the government ordered an additional 250 police officers for Cameroon’s next match, the quarter-final against Gambia on Saturday at a different stadium.
The stampede in Monday’s Cameroon-Comoros round of 16 match at the main African Cup stadium Olembe in the capital of Yaoundé left eight people dead and 38 others injured, seven of them seriously. It was one of the worst stadium disasters in the history of Africa’s biggest soccer tournament.
Cameroon’s Sports Minister Narcisse Mouelle Kombi told a news conference on Friday that the full results of a government investigation were not yet available, but she did reveal new information.
About 60,000 fans tried to get into the game at the Olembe, Kombi said, when the crowd was supposed to be capped at 48,000 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The African Cup organizers have made it mandatory for fans to present negative virus tests and proof that they are vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the games.
But many fans did not have tickets or meet the COVID-19 screening criteria, so they forced their way in, Kombi said. Local TV stations have broadcast footage of fans jumping over security fences at the time of the crush.
“I will not be able to give you the results of the investigations ordered by the president of Cameroon, Paul Biya, but the massive and late influx of fans and spectators to the Olembe stadium in Yaoundé caused the crowding,” Kombi said.
Also, fans had been late because they had been watching an earlier match on television, Kombi said.
Authorities have yet to explain why security officials directed fans toward a door that was locked, as witnesses said, and contributed to the crowding. Or why security was so inadequate and so easily overwhelmed.
Kombi is also the chairman of the Cameroonian local organizing committee for the tournament.
He said the increased security for Cameroon’s game against Gambia in the commercial capital Douala on Saturday was “to stop the uncivil behavior of Cameroonians who want to force their way into the stadium when they don’t have tickets and negative results from the test COVID-19”.
Kombi said organizers would no longer allow children under the age of 11 to attend the games after several children were caught up in the crowd at the Olembe.
The African Football Confederation, which runs the African Cup together with local organizers, took one of the quarter-finals away from the Olembe Stadium as a result of the crush. CAF president Patrice Motsepe said Olembe will also not host a semifinal and final on February 6 unless Cameroon soccer officials can guarantee the games will be safe.
The additional police presence at Douala’s Japoma stadium for Saturday’s match was also due to an incident at that stadium during a group stage match between Algeria and Ivory Coast when some 40 fans invaded the pitch at the end of the match. Some of the fans grabbed the players and had to be dragged away.
Cameroon Police Chief Martin Mbarga Nguelle said he personally oversaw security preparations for Cameroon’s quarterfinals.
The Central African nation of Cameroon was set to host the African Cup in 2019, but was stripped of that year’s event by CAF due to problems with its stadium preparations. CAF warned Cameroon just a few months ago that facilities and security plans at the Olembe were inadequate and threatened to remove the opening match from the 60,000-seat stadium, which cost Cameroon more than $300 million to build for the World Cup. African.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.