As investigators try to piece together the events that led to the death of two fans at Johannesburg’s Soccer City over the weekend, football administrators are bracing themselves for lawsuits from the families of the bereaved or injured.
South African Football Association president Danny Jordaan confirmed that the Confederation of African Football and Fifa have been briefed, and that the government has been asked to institute an independent commission of inquiry into the tragedy.
Although Minister of Sport Thulas Nxesi has set up a ministerial committee to investigate the stampede, the Premier Soccer League’s executive committee has set up its own probe, led by Vincent Maleka SC.
“This is a sensitive matter and we must be careful and circumspect about how we handle this tragedy,” said Jordaan. “There could be claims lodged by families that lost their loved ones and those that suffered injuries through the courts, and so let us allow due process to take place.
“A football match is supposed to be a place of entertainment. What happened at FNB Stadium is very unfortunate. We are going to ask for a full report and institute a full investigation on what transpired and the cause for the stampede,” he added.
But Jacques Grobbelaar, the chief executive of Stadium Management South Africa, which manages the FNB Stadium, blamed the dozens of people who held counterfeit tickets as well as ticket touts for triggering the tragic event.
“In preliminary investigations and after scrutinising video material of the incident, we have determined that it wasn’t a stampede in any way,” said Grobbelaar.
“A group of about 150 [fans] was going from gate to gate unticketed, distracting security, trying to breach the perimeter fence. They managed to break one emergency gate open and walked in, literally walked through the gate,” he said.
But the question of how people without valid tickets managed to penetrate both the outer and inner perimeter fences and ended up fighting their way into the stadium without being detected as invalid ticket holders remains unknown.
Back in January 1991 at the Orkney Stadium, the Soweto giants met in a preseason friendly match. Pirates supporters pelted Chiefs fans with objects and then charged at them, resulting in a stampede that left 42 people dead.
A decade later, in April 2001, spectators forced their way into Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium during a match between the two rivals, causing yet another stampede and the panicking multitudes were crushed against the walls. A total of 43 people lost their lives.
An inquiry led by Judge Bernard Ngoepe made the damning finding that “corrupt” PSL security personnel had illegally allowed spectators through the gates after “collecting” certain fees, even though the people did not have match tickets.
He recommended that corrective measures be implemented whenever the two teams met, suggesting that tickets should be presold — but also that a portion of the stands should be left open by not selling tickets for the stadium’s entire capacity.
South Africa prides itself on its modern stadiums, and the FNB Stadium hosted the Fifa World Cup Final in 2010 without incident. The facilities are the envy of the continent and investing in the training of security personnel is meant to be a priority.
It cannot be that, 20 years after the Orkney disaster and 16 years after the one at Ellis Park, South Africans have still not learned how to handle a big match and prevent such a tragedy from recurring.