Houphouet-Boigny Stadium Stampede – 2009

West African soccer fans like to turn matches into carnivals and the 2010 World Cup qualifier between Cote d’Ivoire and Malawi was no exception. Tickets had sold out long beforehand and the newly refurbished Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan was packed with an exuberant crowd, gloriously costumed and painted in the Ivorian team colors of orange, green and white, playing musical instruments, cheering and dancing. There were high hopes of success. Not for nothing are the Ivorian team known as ‘The Elephants’: robust athleticism combined with sound technical skills makes them a force to be reckoned with. Several of the national team play for European clubs and among the stars the fans had come to see were Hibernian defender Sol Bamba, Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou and Cote d’Ivoire team captain Didier Drogba.

Long before the match was due to start the crowd around the stadium was already heaving. Then, just before kick-off, a wall collapsed as fans jostled to get into the game. Pandemonium broke out and police fired tear gas into the surge of fans, making an already bad situation even worse; anyone who stumbled was crushed or trampled underfoot in the panic. Amazingly, the match went ahead as though nothing was happening; Cote d’Ivoire defeated Malawi 5-0.

Though officials blamed ticketless fans for the tragedy, a FIFA enquiry concluded that the Ivorian Football Federation (FIF) was responsible. The security staff had not been sufficiently trained or equipped to prevent a stampede. The FIF was fined and ordered to pay compensation to the victims’ families. The Houphouet-Boigny tragedy was just the latest in a series of disastrous football stadium stampedes across the African continent, all due to lack of proper crowd control.

When was the Houphouet-Boigny Stadium Stampede: March 29 2009

Where was the Houphouet-Boigny Stadium Stampede: Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire

What was the Houphouet-Boigny Stadium Stampede death toll: At least 22 were killed and more than 130 injured

You should know: In high-scoring matches in 1992 and 2006, Cote d’Ivoire defeated Ghana 11-10 and Cameroon 12-11. Both matches were clinched by 24-shot penalty shoot-outs, the highest in international football.


Attack On The Sri Lankan Cricket Team – 2009

In the years leading up to Sri Lanka’s ill-fated 2009 Test tour, Pakistan had experienced several incidents which led to international matches being abandoned or cancelled. Sri Lanka was playing as a replacement for the Indian team, which had pulled out after the Mumbai terrorist attacks; they had been promised ‘presidential style’ security.

On the morning of March 3, the vehicles transporting the team to Lahore’s Qadhafi Stadium for day three of the second Test were attacked at Liberty Square roundabout. Masked gunmen opened fire on both the coach carrying the players and the minibus in which the referee and umpires were travelling. It was only fortunate that the grenades and rockets loosed by the assailants were ineffectual, else the carnage would have been far worse. Even so several players suffered shrapnel wounds and the driver of the minibus was killed, although none of his passengers was seriously injured. The coach driver courageously drove on through the hail of bullets to the safety of the stadium.

A policeman who had boarded the minibus seeking cover had to be urged to take its wheel and follow the coach, which eventually he did. The match was abandoned as a draw and the team was airlifted from the stadium and flown home.

Those blamed for the outrage included al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba (‘Army of the Pure’ – an outlawed militant group which had issued a fatwa against playing cricket) and the Tamil Tigers. The world was appalled by the attack, the first on a national sports team since the Munich massacre of Israeli athletes in 1972, and there was universal condemnation of the lax security. Footage from CCTV cameras had captured the whole scene: it not only showed the masked gunmen arriving, making their attack and escaping unchallenged but also recorded security forces running away.

When was the Attack on the Sri Lankan Cricket Team: March 3 2009

Where was the Attack on the Sri Lankan Cricket Team: Liberty Square Roundabout, Lahore, Pakistan

What was the Attack on the Sri Lankan Cricket Team death toll: Eight – six policemen, the minibus driver and a civilian were killed.

You should know: Police involved in the attack were later awarded medals for velour. Coach driver Mahar Mohammad Khalil was widely hailed as a hero, and a grateful Sri Lankan cricketer gave him his team shirt.


The Boys in Red – Bathurst Car Accident – 2008

Across the territories and provinces of Canada, school children are considered a very precious cargo. The transport that is used to ferry them to and from school is deliberately robust. The iconic big yellow school bus is built like a tank and is driven by a highly trained driver. Flashing lights tell other drivers when not to pass and everybody obeys. However, these buses are expensive to run and it is often necessary to use other vehicles to transport children to extracurricular activities.

It was very late on Friday January 11 2008 when parents gathered to collect their sons who were returning from an away basketball fixture. This was a routine they had grown used to – the Bathurst High School ‘Boys in Red’ basketball team regularly travelled miles to play the game they loved. When midnight came and went and a mixture of freezing rain and snow began to fall, the assembled group grew increasingly anxious. Eventually a police car pulled up and an officer informed the parents that the 15-seat Ford Club Wagon carrying their children had been involved in an accident and they should go to the local hospital.

Only four of the 12 people on board had made it to the hospital – seven pupils and the wife of the ‘Boys in Red’ team coach (who was also the driver) had been pronounced dead at the scene. The tragedy shook the whole of Canada. A national day of mourning was declared and tributes and condolences poured in from far and wide. A Facebook page was set up to allow people to extend their sympathy. The boys’ funeral, held at the Bathurst Civic Centre, was attended by more than 6,000 people and thousands more watched on a giant screen at the nearby ice rink.

When: January 12 2008

Where: Bathurst, New Brunswick, Canada

Death toll: Seven boys and their teacher

You should know: Laws were rushed through to ban vehicles like the one used to transport the boys. Some provinces began to require extra insurance, even for parents giving children’s friends lifts to and from school-organized activities. While the laws are well meaning, there are fears that they may lead to children having fewer opportunities to engage in sports and social activities outside school.


Accra Sports Stadium Stampede – 2001

The year 2001 was an annus horribilis for soccer in Africa. Within the space of one month the continent saw deaths at matches in Ivory Coast, South Africa and The Democratic Republic of Congo. Practically anywhere in Africa a mixture of rowdy behavior and poor crowd control had made attending a match a risky business. In May of that year fierce rivals Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak met at the Accra Sports Stadium in Ghana’s capital. The crowd was raucous and every adverse refereeing decision was booed, while the players themselves seemed to be letting the occasion go to their heads as several meaty challenges flew in.

For most of the game Kotoko fans were the happiest as their team led 1-0. Things started to turn ugly after a contentious equalizer and further fuel was added to the flames when Hearts took the lead. The Kotoko fans did not like what they saw and started ripping up the stands, using plastic seats as missiles against the police and rival supporters. The police in turn used tear gas, the most powerful weapon available to them short of live ammunition.

Tear gas is the bluntest of instruments when used against crowds. Designed to blind and disorientate, it is only really effective if the crowd has somewhere to run to. Many of the fans tried to flee the stadium only to find their path blocked by locked metal gates. In the ensuing crush more than 100 died through compressive asphyxiation and hundreds more were injured. To compound the unfolding tragedy, only a handful of medical staff were on duty that evening and even these had departed the scene before the trouble flared.

When was the Accra Sports Stadium Stampede: May 9 2001

Where was the Accra Sports Stadium Stampede: Accra (Ohene Djan) Sports Stadium, Accra, Ghana

What was the Accra Sports Stadium Stampede death toll: Official figures put the death toll at 127.

You should know: The coroner’s inquiry was hindered by the fact that many of the dead were Muslims, it is the custom in Islam that a burial should take place within 24 hours of death and this prevented detailed forensic examination. Even the official death toll may be a gross underestimate as many families took away their loved ones’ bodies to give them a decent burial in accordance with their beliefs.


Ellis Park Stadium Stampede – 2011

During the apartheid era, sport in South Africa played a central role both for those who wished to punish the regime through sanctions and others who wished to break those sanctions by setting up so-called ‘rebel tours’. Rugby and cricket were in the forefront of dies battles but the largely black sport of football was ignored. Because soccer requires little investment to play, it is the most egalitarian of sports and the black underclass took to it with great gusto. Post apartheid, soccer became the unofficial national sport and attendances grew.

In April 2001, Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg was to host the biggest club match in South Africa – the Soweto Derhy between the Kaizer Chiefs and the Orlando Pirates, As kick-off approached, a capacity crowd of 60,000 was already in the ground but outside as many again were keen to gain entry, While many stadiums across the country had fallen into disrepair, Ellis Park was one of the country’s finest. However, poorly trained stewards could not cope with the sheer weight of numbers pressing to get in. The guards panicked and fired tear gas into the air. This led to a stampede, with people running everywhere, many of them into the already full-to-bursting stands.

The pressure was at its most intense in the East Stand and, as the massed ranks of fans pushed against the perimeter fence, it gave way under the strain.

While some at the front escaped, many were unwittingly trampled by those coming up behind. The injured were laid out on the pitch alongside the dead and dying. Calls for medical assistance went largely unheeded as emergency planning was virtually non-existent. The walking wounded had to fend for themselves; the more seriously injured stood little chance of survival. The lack of crowd control had ended in tragedy.

When was the Ellis Park Stadium Stampede: April 11 2001

Where was the Ellis Park Stadium Stampede: Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa

What was the Ellis Park Stadium Stampede Death toll: 43 dead, over 250 injured.

You should know: The incident is the worst disaster at a sporting event in South Africa, but only just. A decade earlier 42 people were killed in a stampede when the two teams met in a pre-season friendly.


Camp Randall Stadium Crush – 1993

It may be of little comfort to the handful of fans who were critically injured, but most of those involved in a 1993 crush at Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium got off relatively lightly. Serious flaws were uncovered in the stadium design and security, which provided a wake-up call for the whole of American mass spectator sport.

College football is no stranger to rowdy behavior, and when home side Wisconsin Badgers scraped a win by three points against rivals Michigan, fans rushed to invade the pitch to celebrate. The news of a sell-out crowd had prompted the authorities to up the number of police on duty by ten to 65, but this was patently inadequate for a crowd of nearly 78,000 people.

A low mesh fence was all that separated the fans from the playing area; when they started leaping the barrier with ease, the police tried to push them back. This had the knock-on effect of causing some fans close to the fence to stumble and fall. They were now being crushed from behind while the police were still reacting by pushing the crowd back. In the commotion, appeals from police and dub officials fell on deaf ears and fans at the back of the stands still rushed forward.

Things were getting critical for those in the middle of the crush.

A horrified hush fell over the stadium as the crowd began to realize what was happening. Members of the young, athletic Wisconsin team acted heroically, diving into the melee to haul out the injured, many of whom were turning blue from asphyxiation. Six people suffered serious injuries, but it might have been very much worse had it not been for the actions of a few brave and level-headed individuals.

When was the Camp Randall Stadium Crush: October 30 1993

Where was the Camp Randall Stadium Crush: Camp Randall stadium, Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Toll: Six people were seriously injured.

You should know: The crush led to an overhaul in the design of Camp Randall and other similar stadiums. The security company in charge of the stadium was found liable for the poor crowd control and faced several hefty lawsuits.