Today in history Football must never forget 127 fans who died 16 years ago

On 9 May 2001, 127 football fans died at the Accra Sports Stadium, making it Africa's worst ever sports-related disaster

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play Football must never forget 127 fans who died on May 9
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It's been 15 years now since the May 9 disaster tragedy when 127 poor souls travelled to a football match and never came home in what happened to be Africa's worst sporting tragedy

Everyone has dates that are etched in their head for entirely personal reasons, be it birthdays, weddings or anniversaries.

And while I didn't know any of those who perished in Accra, May 9, 2001, is a date that never leaves my mind.

I also hope that every year it comes around, anyone with an interest in sport or compassion for life itself, even allowing for the busy lives we all lead in the modern world, should take at least a few moments to remember The 127 and those they left behind.

Ghana Premier League clubs always observe a minute silence at the various league centres in remembrance of the lost souls and as usual it was observed yesterday when match day 11 of the Ghana Premier League was played.

However, the big question is that has sports fans learnt a lesson from what happened on May 9 or they just say with their mouths, while their hearts are far from the incident?

Since May 9 2001, there have several violent acts instigated by some club officials and supporters that resulted in certain forms of confusion and in some cases people lost their lives. Example in February, 2009 some fans lost their lives in Kumasi in a game between Kotoko and Hearts of Oak.

 

The game

In the year 2000 Accra Hearts of Oak on  their  way  to winning  the  Ghana  league  title  beat  Asante  Kotoko  4-0 and  the  May  9, 2001 was  a  revenge  time  for Kotoko  and  to  Hearts  of  Oak,  a  time  to  prove  their dominance on Kotoko once again.

On May 9, 2001, the rains have just subsided. The sun announced it's presence briefly and left. A bright sky hanging over a tension-packed Accra, the capital of Ghana. The streets were dead, but the buildings were alive with thousands of football fans waiting to flock to the Accra Sports Stadium which was once christened Ohene Djan Sports Stadium.

A football rivalry was in the waiting. Old foes Hearts of Oak [based in Accra] and Asante Kotoko [Kumasi-based team] were battle-ready to set Accra alive in a midweek league game. It was May 9, 2001. A sea of fans drenched in hot red took one side of the stadium to ransom while bright rainbow colours decorated the other half.

Hostilities had unfolded within the white lines of the stadium. Ironic cheers and boos filled the atmosphere. Applause and chanting diffuse the tension intermittently, but none of the sides was prepared to go home a defeated unit. However, there was a loser and a winner. The scoreline ushered in the unexpected.

The Phobians [Hearts] were leading the Porcupine Warriors [Kotoko] 2-1 with only five minutes to stoppage time. Agitated fans hurled missiles on the pitch. The police responded with tear gas into the stands. Gates were locked tightly. The fans had nowhere to seek refuge. They were trapped. Stampede ensued. Hell broke loose. Death was on rampage.

The disaster

On 9 May 2001, 127 football fans died at the Accra Sports Stadium, making it Africa's worst ever sports-related disaster. It was one of several such incidents in Africa over a period of less than a month, including similar disasters in South Africa (43 killed on 11 April), the Congo (14 killed on 29 April), and the Ivory Coast (39 killed on 6 May).

The fans were in Accra that night to watch a match between hosts Hearts of Oak and rival club Asante Kotoko. The visitors were up 1-0 near the end of the match, but Hearts of Oak scored two late goals to take the lead. With about five minutes left, frustrated supporters in agitation that Ishmael Addo scored the equaliser from an off-side position began ripping seats out of the stands and throwing them onto the pitch. The police responded by firing tear gas into the crowd, causing a panic. Most of the victims were crushed in the ensuing stampede, while a few died from suffocation.

Although six policemen were charged with manslaughter, authorities later determined that the tragedy was compounded by the fact that several stadium gates were locked at the time, preventing the crowd from escaping.

The Ghanaian government established a special scholarship for children of the victims and also erected a memorial statue at the stadium.

The Okudzeto Commission

And so the disaster came and passed and even though Ghana’s spirit was shaken to the core,  the  country needed  to  move  on  with  the  business  of  life.  A commission was set up to look into the disaster by President John Agyekum Kuffour. The Chairman of the commission was Lawyer Sam. Okudzeto, other members  of  the  commission  where Professor George K. Ofosu Amaah, former Director of the  Special Branch, Professor Agyeman Badu Akosa President  of  the  Ghana  Medical  Association  (GMA), Professor Akua Kuenyehia, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Legon  and  Mr.  Ken Bediako,  a  veteran  Sports Journalist. President Kuffour, who inaugurated the commission,

asked the commissioners to determine their own procedure and not feel limited to stay at the Teachers' Hall for their operations but inspect the scene  of the disaster  and  invite  experts  on  the  suitability  of  the structures  at  the  stadium.  He remarked further: "As you take the oath  of  office,  we  thank  you  for accepting  to  serve  the  nation.  Do not leave anything behind since you appreciate the gravity of the situation that led 126 people dead and over 200 injured”.

 

Report

The commission among other things recommended the prosecution of six police officers, which a government White paper upheld. Police officers, Chief Superintendent  of  Police, Koranteng Mintah,  ASP  Frank  Awuah,  ASP  Faakyi Kumi, ASP B.B. Bakomora, ASP John Naami and ASP Frank  Aryee  were  each charged  with  127  counts  of manslaughter.”

The Defense Counsel made a submission of no case, in their  submission  of  no  case,  they prayed  the  court presided over by Mr. Justice Yaw Appau to acquit and discharge the officers as the Prosecution had failed to prove its case. The court in its ruling on the submissions of no case, stated that the Prosecution could not prove the acts of the Officers as those who caused harm, kill or maim the 127 fans at the Stadium on May 9. The Court also held that the Prosecution had failed to prove the essential ingredients  of the  manslaughter charge against the Officers. The  ingredients  of  the  charge  were:  that  there  weredeaths; that the deaths were caused by harm; that the harm caused was unlawful; that the Officers caused the death of the 127 fans and that the harm amounted to reckless   disregard   towards   human   lives. It maintained that the Prosecution had proved that there were deaths but could not prove that the fans died as a result   of   harm   caused   by   the   Officers. Mr. Justice Appau was of the view that the Officers did not cause the deaths of the 127 fans as the Pathologists had attributed the cause of deaths to traumatic asphyxia and   not   through   inhaling   of   tear   gas. This, it said occurred as a result of inadequate air for the fans to breath and stated that the Officers should not be blamed for that. Mr.  Justice Appau,  however,  attributed  the  cause  of deaths to the failure of the Stadium Officials to open the gates,  coupled  with  the  light  going  off  and  the narrowness  of  the  stairway  where  most  of  the  fans forced their way through.He mentioned that the fact that the Prosecution failed to prosecute  the  junior  officers,  who  fired  the  tear  gas, meant  that  the  use  of  the  tear  gas  was  lawful.

The Judge noted that the Officers were duty bound and were acting lawfully by dispersing the rampaging fans that    were    destroying    public    property." The  Police  in  preventing  crime  ought  to  apply maximum force and as such did not have in mind what was happening at the gates." And so the trial ended without anyone held accountable for the death of the many people who lost their lives at the stadium on May 9 2001. A ‘Stadium Disaster Fund’ was set up to raise funds

 for the upkeep of the families and dependent of the victims of the disaster.  Members of the committee were Ms Helena Cobbina of the Ghana Police Service, Mr. KwesiEssel Koomson,  the  managing  director  of  KEK Insurance Brokers and Mrs. Regina Apotsi, the Judicial

Secretary. The  Commission  also  recommended  among other things that children of the victims should be supported through Senior Secondary School in addition to a daily wage for their upkeep.“Children of pre9school age be supported each with the minimum  daily  wage,”  the  report  said adding  “to supplement  the  fund  on  a  permanent  basis  and  to commemorate the occasion of the disaster each year, the two clubs, Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko should play a charity soccer competition on a convenient  date  near  May  9,  at  the  Accra  Sports Stadium  for  a  trophy  donated  by  the  fund. Part of the recommendations also stated that the “in case of the 54 victims who did not have any children, a one-off ex-gratia payment of ¢10 million be made to the victims’ parents or accredited legal representatives of their family.”  The report also asked government to contribute at least ¢2 billion in the first year of the fund to supplement the capital of the fund and sustain.

The purpose disbursement scheme. The White Paper endorsed the commission’s recommendation that a series of training programs should be organized for the police to equip them to deal with flashpoints not only at the various stadia but in all aspects     of     the     Ghanaian     society. Henceforth, policemen who were not assigned duties would no more be allowed entry into any of the stadia throughout the country. The management style of Enoch Teye Mensah, former Minister of Youth and Sports  as  the  political  head of sports promotion also came in for criticism. The White paper endorsed the findings of the Commission which established that the overbearing presence of the former Minister intimidated officers of the National Sports Council  to  the  extent  that  most  officials  of  the  NSC shied away from taking major decisions on their own apportioning part of the blame on the indecisiveness of leading     officials     of     the     Council. One casualty of this perceived timidity is  the  Acting Chief Executive of the Sports Council Brigadier George Brock. The retired army officer is to be dismissed from his     post     with     immediate     effect.

The Government  wondered  why  clubs  using  facilities provided by the Sports Council for league matches paid only  a  pittance  of  gate  proceeds  towards  the maintenance  of  the  various  football  arenas  and  other properties  of  the  NSC.  To this end, the  White  Paper ordered a review of the share of the proceeds of the Sports Council    at    football    matches. The Government view facilities provided by the Accra Sports  Stadium  for  major  sporting  events  as  woefully inadequate  in  the  construction  of  the National construction of the National Olympic Complex, ( the site of  which  was  said  to  have  been  acquired  by  the Rawlings  regime  at  a  place  near  the  Accra Tema Motorway).  The White paper slammed the quality of chairs at the

Accra Sports Stadium which were easily torn apart by irate fans  and  ordered  a  thorough  examination to establish their suitability, or otherwise, to accommodate sports fans.

 

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