Painful reflection: 127 football fans perish at the Accra Sports Stadium

The foundations of Ghana were shaken and the entire nation went dark on this day when 127 spectators who left their various homes to witness a colorful soccer action between the two most glamorous clubs in Ghana, Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak were crushed to death

Hence Ghana was hit by the worst stadium disaster on the African continent on 9th May, 2001 as a result of multiple of causes which killed 127 people at the Accra Sports Stadium.

Football which is supposed to unite people turned out to rather disunite people and succeeded in bringing tiers and agony to the entire populace of Ghana.

The big question one would ask himself is that do people learn from the mistakes of others. The Accra Sports Stadium Disaster happened exactly 30 days after the Ellis Park Stadium Disaster in South Africa, which wiped out 43 spectators who thronged into the Ellis Park to watch the Johannesburg derby between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs. This is apparently the worst stadium disaster in South Africa.

The Accra Sports Stadium disaster occurred during a league match between Ghana’s two most successful football teams, Accra Hearts of Oak sc and Asante Kotoko fc.

Kotoko shot ahead through a brilliant 60th minute goal by Lawrence Adjei whose 25-metre shot slipped through the hands of goalkeeper Sammy Adjei.

But Hearts’ equalizer through Ismael Addo in the 77th minute influenced the incorrigible fans to throw missiles into the stadium in protest against perceived injustice meted out to them by Cape Coast referee J. Wilson-Sey for allowing Addo to equalise from an offside position.

Addo again fired the Phobians into the lead in the 81st minute to secure victory for the Hearts of Oak’s team affectionately called the 64 battalions for their fearsome nature.

At the end of the 90 minutes the attention shifted from Ishmael Addo, whose two strikes snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for his side’s 2-1 victory, to the dead and injured fans.

The response to this crowd disturbance and throwing of missiles from the police was to fire tear gas into the crowd.

Panic ensued and a resulting stampede led to the deaths of 127 fans from asphyxiation – a condition characterised by severe deficient supply of oxygen to the body due to inability to breathe normally.

Aftermath of the disaster
The then president of the republic of Ghana His Excellency John Agyekum Kuffour set up an official inquiry body headed by Sam Okudjeto former head of the Ghana Bar Association,

The commission blamed the police for over-reacting with reckless behaviour and indiscriminate firing of plastic bullets and tear gas. It also accused some officers of dishonesty and indefensible laxity.

Reports claim that medical staff had already left the stadium, as the incident happened near the end of the match.

Some gates were locked, preventing escape.
Flaw of the report
It said little about the fans rioting that led to the firing of the tear gas, prompting accusations that the commission had conveniently overlooked the root cause of the tragedy.

The Sam Okudzeto Commission of inquiry recommended improvements to stadium security and first aid facilities, and that nationwide rapid response teams should be set up.

It also recommended that the structure of the Accra stadium should be changed to allow for large entrances and exits for free movement.

Six police officers were charged with 127 counts of manslaughter afterwards, but the court ruled that the prosecution had failed to make a case.

Steps taken by government to immortalize the lost souls and assist their love ones

Stadium Disaster Fund
A stadium disaster fund was put in place and yielded over GHC 300, 000. This resource was shared among the relatives of the deceased.

May 9 stand
The then Minister of Youth and Sport, Edward Osei-Kwaku in 2002 commissioned the refurbished popular stand where most of the 127 football fans perished in 2001. The stand, which has been christened May 9 Stand was rehabilitated at a cost of 235 million cedis.

May 9th Stadium Disaster Scholarship
A scholarship scheme was put in place in 2003 to cater for the educational needs of children the victims of the stadium disaster.

Lessons from the May 9th disaster
The big question is, has Ghana as a nation learnt from the May 9th experience? The English after losing 96 fans in the Hillsborough Stadium disaster in 1989, which marked their 25th anniversary last month, have since put in place measures that have prevented future occurrences.

But Ghana after the May 9th disaster suffered from another stampede between these two sides at the Baba Yara Stadium which led to loss of about 5 souls in 2009 in Kumasi.

League games are still played without the necessary medical officers to offer first aid services in case of any eventualities.

Ghana should not take things for granted and should be up to task to avoid any such incidence in the future.

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