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Remembering Accra Sports Stadium Disaster 19 Years On

Today marks 19 years since the darkest night in Ghanaian football at Accra Sports Stadium in the evening of Wednesday 9 May 2001, when 127 fans lost their lives during a league match between Hearts of Oak and perennial rivals Asante Kotoko.

Today marks 19 years since the darkest night in Ghanaian football at Accra Sports Stadium in the evening of Wednesday 9 May 2001, when 127 fans lost their lives during a league match between Hearts of Oak and perennial rivals Asante Kotoko.

In addition to the deaths, 50 fans were injured when police fired teargas in an attempt to quell violence at the 40,000-capacity stadium. Several women were among those who died in a sad event that has been described as Africa’s worst football disaster.

The game had about five minutes left when Kotoko fans – whose team were losing 2-1 – started ripping off chairs from one stand and hurling them onto the pitch.

Police used tear gas in an effort to control the crowd, but this appears to have created panic and led to a stampede. The gates to the stadium were reportedly locked shut and the fans had nowhere to seek refuge thus the stampede occurred.

One of the fans who witnessed the fatal incident told the BBC, “The fighting started when supporters started breaking the chairs and throwing the pieces onto the pitch.

“The police started firing tear gas into the stands … what saved me was I just moved my shirt and used it to cover my mouth.”

Both the dead and unconscious were mixed and bundled together into car trunks and ambulances, and rushed to major hospitals.

Relatives filled the health facilities frantically searching for their loved ones as they wept uncontrollably.

Abdul Mohammed survived the disaster, and who, it’s believed, had already been placed in a morgue as the medical practitioner had been overwhelmed by the high number of patients at one of the hospitals in Accra.

“It was only God. I would have been counted among the dead. That nightmare still haunts me. I sometimes hear and see dying people screaming at that stand in my dreams. I’ll never forget. It was horror,” he told 10 years after the fateful incident.

“A lot of people were on top of me that night. Blood was all over as people were crushed to death. I tried to force myself out, but my strength had gone. I didn’t know how I passed out. It was a big miracle for me to have my eyes opened at the mortuary, else I would have been buried alive.”

Trouble had been anticipated ahead of the game, and the authorities had taken extra security measures to prevent the disaster.

But a commission of inquiry set up to probe the cause of the incident blamed the police for excessive use of force.

Also in its interim report, the commission noted that no ambulances were on standby at the crowded stadium, the facility clinic was closed and there were no security guards at the exits.

Survivors’ accounts at the commission sittings revealed that they begged the police not to fire tear gas into the crowd but their pleas went unheeded.

Thus the commission recommended charges against six police officers on 127 counts of manslaughter for their complicity in the disaster.

But three years later the officers were discharged after a seven-member jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

John Asare Naami, Edward Faakyi Kumi, Francis Ayittey Aryee, Frank Awu, Benjamin B. Bakomora, all Assistant Superintendents of Police and Chief Superintendent of Police Koranteng Mintah were released after the prosecution failed to prove its case.

The judges noted that that the Officers were duty-bound and were acting lawfully by dispersing the rampaging fans that were destroying public property.

Ghana Football Association learnt a lot from the incident and since then games between Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko no longer take place at night.

A monument was later constructed at the main entrance of the Accra sports stadium in memory of those who perished during the disaster.

And as the West African nation marks the 19th anniversary, the best tribute that Ghanaian football can pay the departed souls is to ensure that no tragedy of that magnitude occurs again.

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