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The AFCON tragedy

The AFCON tragedy

A crush outside the stadium where Cameroon were playing Comoros in the Africa Cup of Nations has left eight people dead. What do we know about what happened?


Transcript

Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football. 

Today… how “keeping up appearances” could have caused a tragedy.

***

It was supposed to be one of football’s wonderful underdog stories. 

But instead it turned into a terrible tragedy. 

On Monday night, Africa Cup of Nations hosts Cameroon played Comoros. 

If you’ve not heard of Comoros, that’s because this was their first ever tournament.  

They made it through to the last 16 of the Africa Cup of Nations after a dramatic 3-2 win over Ghana. 

And with all of their goalkeepers either ruled out with injuries or Covid, they had to field a left-back in goal. 

They did brilliantly well. They scored a stunning free-kick and only lost  2-1 to hosts Cameroon, a side that has played in four World Cup tournaments.

That story deserves to be told. 

But tragically it is what happened outside the stadium where attention is now focused.

After the game reports began to emerge that people had lost their lives trying to get in to watch the match…

“But first, at least six people have died with dozens more injured in a stampede outside the Olembe stadium in the Cameroon capital Yaounde. It happened before last night’s round of 16 between Cameroon and Comoros as crowds struggled to gain access to the stadium. The governor of the region has warned there may be more fatalities…” 

Sky Sports News

How did it happen? 

And does it raise questions about whether Cameroon was ready to host a major tournament?

Patrice Motsepe is the President of the Confederation of African Football… CAF. He’s a billionaire. He made his money from mining precious metals in South Africa. 

In December, he visited the Olembe stadium. He was asked by a reporter whether the facilities in Cameroon would be ready.

“We are ready to show the world the best of African football, but also the best of African hospitality and the best of… we are Africans that are a caring and a loving people. So it’s gonna be a successful AFCON. The most successful.”

“In January? When the people?

“Well… I’m here from January 7th. And if I’m here January 7… I’m here seven… everybody must be here seven. So come January 9, they must kick off”

Lim Sports Zone

President Motsepe dodged the question and scolded those he said had “skeptical, negative views.”

Yet bulldozers were still digging access roads at the entrance to the stadium… the day after his visit.

It seems like President Motsepe’s optimism may have been misplaced. And it had tragic consequences. 

Before a ball had even been kicked, Motsepe was under pressure to postpone the tournament altogether. 

Violent separatist groups had been seeking independence for the English-speaking parts of Cameroon. 

“On Wednesday, a bomb went off and that was just less than a week ago and another bomb had went…er gone off in Limbe and a lot of people that we spoke to in the city say that they fear that the separatists may carry a bomb into the stadium….”

DW Sports

Workers raised concerns in the press about their treatment… and they warned that the stadium would not be ready  in time for the first match . 

And of course, Covid presented another challenge to the Cameroonian authorities. 

Supporters had to show proof of vaccination to enter the stadium. Attendances were capped at 60 percent of capacity, except when Cameroon were playing, when crowds of 80 percent were allowed.

But the problem doesn’t seem to have been caused by those with a ticket for the match.

It transpired that officials had actively encouraged people without tickets to come and queue to gain entry for the stadium, so people watching on TV could see  it filled with people.

Here’s an eyewitness account from journalist Simon Harding.

“Cameroonian authorities recently asked anyone who didn’t have a ticket and who lined up outside could come in for free once all the tickets or er…members of the public who had tickets were able to go inside the stadium and that is where we believe the stampede happened…where people were trying to enter the ground for free to watch Cameroon. There’s been a lot of injuries…an unconfirmed amount of deaths…”

France 24

It was the first time that the stadium had seen crowds this large. And it didn’t stand up to the test. 

The deaths and injuries occurred before the match… and another separate incident could have happened afterwards too.

“Perhaps the authorities weren’t quite prepared for what happened…what I can tell you is when we exited the ground, every exit was blocked and people were still pressed up against fences and such…”

France 24

CAF President Patrice Motsepe has ordered an investigation into what went wrong, as has Cameroon’s President Paul Biya. 

But as you heard, Patrice Motsepe actively discouraged any questions about concerns over whether Cameroon was ready to host a tournament. 

He wanted the show to go on…. and there was to be no “skepticism” or “negativity”.

Yet President Motsepe’s desire to keep up appearances to the outside world… has sadly ended in tragedy. 

Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Imy Harper.