If there is any significant unfortunate event in the country that all Ghanaians, especially soccer enthusiasts, will never forget, then it is the stampede that occurred at the Accra Sports Stadium on May 9, 2001 which led to the death of a hundred and twenty seven (127) soccer fans.
It is a day the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government led by former President John Agyekum Kufuor which was a little over five months old in government would forever remember as it served as a baptism of fire for the young administration.
It all started with the throwing of plastic bottles onto the field by certain aggrieved supporters of Kumasi Asante Kotoko in protest of a goal scored by Ishmael Addo of Accra Hearts of Oak against the arch rivals. Then plastic seats at the national stadium were removed and thrown to the field as part of the protest.
This was when everything started getting murkier as the referee at the centre of attraction had to halt the game to restore calm with the police re-positioning themselves on the field to protect the players and staff of the two teams whose rivalry dates back to the institution of the premier league in the 1950s. Crowd control, became an urgent need at this stage as the police in their quest to see the game continued, had to fire teargas into the spectators, especially, the rowdy young men and women at the then Ade Coker Stands at the Conference Centre end of the magnificent national edifice.
Confusion is the appropriate word to use for what broke out at that end of the stadium which was packed with supporters from the two clubs despite a downpour in the city in the morning of that fateful Wednesday. The naïve football enthusiasts who could not stand the numerous teargas and warning shots fired by the police had no choice but to hurry down and escape for their lives which situation caused a stampede that resulted in the killing of 127 and the maiming of many others.
The disaster, undoubtedly, is one of the worst stadium disasters worldwide and it was not surprising that Ghana became the focus of international media most of which were yet to come to terms with African club football despite a great performance from national teams at world acknowledged events like the World Cup. Indeed, the performance of national teams like The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and the Super Green Eagles of Nigeria in the 1990 and 1994 World Cup events was not enough to have placed African clubs on the calendar of World Club football.
As usual, the Okudzeto Commission of Enquiry was instituted to go into the disaster with its findings blaming the security services at the stadium on the fateful day. A fund was subsequently established to cater for the needs of the maimed and the immediate relatives of the dead but the confusion which followed the disbursement of proceeds from the fund remained unresolved as many blamed the then Chief of Staff, Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, for gross mismanagement of the fund.
However, we are yet to be told of the action that was taken against the interdicted police personnel who were standing trial for their unprofessional conduct. It must be pointed out that our police have become no better in crowd control since then.
What they have succeeded in doing, especially in matches involving the two teams- Kotoko and Hearts- are to increase their numbers so as to cow the supporters into submission, but they forget there is a thin line between fear and respect and the two can easily overlap.
The way and manner the police dealt with striking Ashaiman demonstrators on June 13, 2013 which led to the injury of both civilians and the security forces tells it all.
We are tired of calling on the security bosses to train their personnel in crowd control and also teach them to behave professionally, especially when they move in twos and threes. Training in professional standard of policing will no doubt eliminate from their ranks bribery and corruption which seem to have dented the image of the police force.
Football fanatics and supporters have no doubt not been educated on the rules guarding their passion. Only a fraction of them, recent events have shown, understand that referees so appointed to officiate matches are the final authorities in a game.
Recent happenings in Kumasi, Cape Coast, Obuasi and other stadia during the Glo and First Capital Plus Premier Leagues all give clues that the simple rule of football which is win, draw or lose has not settled down with these numerous spectators of the game.
How unfortunate it was for a 21-year-old referee, Kyei Andoh, to have died from injuries he sustained from beatings in a Division Two game between Najoe United and Gold Stars. For referee Patrick Kyeremanteng, he would forever remember the tragedy of Cape Coast where supporters of Ebusua Dwarfs descended heavily on him at the Robert Mensah Stadium for officiating their game.
Despite condemning the attitude of soccer enthusiasts in laying their hands on the middlemen during or after a game, it is worthwhile to encourage local referees to depart from the bribery acts or officiating in a bias manner. The referees’ appointment committee, the Disciplinary Committee of the Ghana Football Association (GFA) and all who are in charge of disciplining referees, have to be up and doing.
Club officials from the elite and lower divisions must also be warned to desist from either selling off their matches or playing matches of convenience just to give an unnecessary advantage to certain opponents or clubs at the expense of others. They indeed must abstain from bribing referees and inciting supporters against their opponents.
The building of inner perimeters in stadia and other barricades to prevent supporters from getting direct access to the fields, the players and officials is also of importance. Certain high profile matches, I suggest, must be played at secured stadia in the country.
Since these and many others aimed at promoting the beautiful game of football have not been done thirteen years after the death of 127 energetic soccer fans and bread winners of respective families, it is evident that Ghana has not learnt any lesson from the disaster.
Indeed, the families of the victims who remained abandoned after the disaster are also crying for help.
We need as a country to get it straight that the survival of football in Ghana depends on all of us and our backing for it is important.
Let’s rid the game of hooliganism to make it last long in Ghana. I sympathise with families of the affected victims and urge government to go into the aid of the numerous suffering families.