home      service centre   |   publications   |   football family   |   competitions   

Gross crowd underestimate major factor in stadium tragedy

© Reuters 2002

By Darren Schuettler

An inquiry into South Africa's worst football stadium disaster spread the blame on Thursday for a stampede that killed 43 people.

But the inquiry's final report said "gross underestimation" of the likely size of the crowd had to be seen as the fundamental cause of the Ellis Park tragedy in April last year.

Another 158 people were injured when 80,000 fans tried to cram into a 60,000-seat venue.

The report blamed stadium organisers, fans, league officials, police and private security guards for a combination of events - from bad planning to graft - that led to the disaster.

"The present situation cannot be allowed to continue," said Judge Bernard Ngoepe, who led the state-appointed inquiry.

"There is a need for the introduction of special legislation to regulate the game in the interest of the safety of those attending," he said.

The damning 130-page report comes as South Africa, fresh from a successful hosting of the U.N. Earth Summit, prepares to bid for the 2010 FIFA World Cup".

Last year's match between the Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates - the two most popular teams in South African football - was billed as a key game that could decide the championship.

But Ngoepe said it was a "mystery" why no plans were in place to handle the huge crowd that flocked to the stadium in central Johannesburg from nearby black townships.

Police and match organisers thought up to 50,000 fans would show up, but more than 80,000 arrived on match day, many of them seeking to buy tickets.

"Such a gross underestimation of possible attendance must be seen as the fundamental cause of the tragedy," Ngoepe said.

"No plans were in place to deal with a capacity crowd, let alone a crowd in excess thereof as turned out to be the case."

Tear Gas Fuelled Stampede
Witnesses told the inquiry that police and security staff were overwhelmed as fans, angry when the tickets sold out, broke down steel fences and forced their way into the stadium.

Ngoepe said no one took responsibility for securing the stadium's outer fence, and police and security staff failed to act when the fence was breached.

"Thousands of people rushed in and control of the situation was lost. That was the beginning of the stampede," he said.

The alleged use of tear gas was also a key issue during 10 weeks of hearings last year.

Witnesses said gas was fired into the crowd, which panicked fans. But police and other security personnel denied using tear gas.

"The probabilities are that a gaseous irritant...was discharged as alleged," the report said.

Ngoepe said there was evidence of corruption by some security staff, who accepted bribes to allow fans without tickets into the stadium.

He recommended that only security firms with professional training be used and riot police and army soldiers be deployed for "high risk" games.

Guidelines Violated
Ngoepe criticised football officials for starting the game despite the chaos inside and outside the stadium, violating guidelines set by FIFA and the South African football federation.

"It was not until 40 minutes into the game that the chief executive of the PSL (Premier Soccer League), upon realising the tragedy, stopped the game," the report said.

Ngoepe also slammed those fans who stormed the stadium, calling their behaviour "reprehensible", but not characteristic of most South African football spectators.

He took aim at the practice of selling tickets at the stadium just hours before a match - which often sparks a last-minute rush of fans to key games.

The report recommended that all tickets for big matches be pre-sold well in advance.

Ngoepe said legislation to regulate the game should identify those responsible for match security, require stadiums meet certain safety criteria and regulate the hiring of security staff.

He also urged heavy fines to ensure clubs and stadiums do not ignore the law.

Reports provided by

Thursday, 3 October
Vastic left out of Austria squad
Thailand beat UAE in 'Battle of Brits'
Spain squad for Euro 2004 qualifier v Northern Ireland
Vastic left out of Austria squad for Euro 2004 qualifiers
Uncapped Gallas named in France squad for Euro qualifiers
Romania to host Israel's Euro qualifier
Vogts stands up to his critics
Ecuadorean ref Moreno loses appeal against ban
Wednesday, 2 October
Costa Rica appoint Sampson as national coach
Abidjan match goes ahead despite Ivory Coast rebellion
Israel talks to Romania on hosting Euro 2004 qualifiers
Romania's Filipescu to miss October qualifiers
Tuesday, 1 October
Daei helps Iran win, Afghanistan lose 11-0
Weir considers Scotland future after Vogts criticism
Monday, 30 September
South American round-up
Football has its place at Olympics, says IOC head
Blanc calls for charity match for flood victims
Afghanistan still upbeat after 10-0 drubbing
South Africa win Cosafa Castle Cup 4-1 on aggregate
Saturday, 28 September
Afghanistan offer little resistance on return
Japan and Iran start on winning note
Russian prime minister allocates funds for Euro 2008 bid
Friday, 27 September
Clubs want more say in running England team
Ricardo confident of international return
Cosafa Castle Cup leading scorers
Road to the Cosafa Castle Cup final
Previous Cosafa Castle Cup winners
South Africa set for first regional title v Malawi

  Copyright © 1994-2002 FIFA. All rights reserved.
  Copyright © 1994-2002 En-Linea, Inc. All rights reserved.