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With the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) fast approaching, supporters will be making their preparations to journey to the Ivory Coast. From 13 January, the West African nation will be awash with the colours of the 24 competing countries.
Large numbers of fans require careful preparation from the authorities, though, and Africa, much like every other footballing continent, has suffered its fair share of stadium disasters, and officials will be determined to make sure there is no trouble this year. For reference, here are the worst disasters in African football history.
- 1 List of worst stadium disasters in Africa
- 2 Zamalek Stadium – Egypt, 17 February 1974
- 3 Oppenheimer Stadium – South Africa, 13 January 1991
- 4 National Sports Stadium – Zimbabwe, 9 July 2000
- 5 Ellis Park – South Africa, 11 April 2001
- 6 Accra Sports Stadium – Ghana, 9 May 2001
- 7 Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny – Ivory Coast, 29 March 2009
- 8 Port Said Stadium – Egypt, 1 February 2012
- 9 30 June Stadium – Egypt, 8 February 2015
- 10 Bingu Stadium – Malawi, 5 July 2017
- 11 FNB Stadium – South Africa, 29 July 2017
- 12 Olembe Stadium – Cameroon, 24 January 2022
List of worst stadium disasters in Africa
Zamalek Stadium – Egypt, 17 February 1974
Match: Zamalek vs Dukla Prague
After the venue of the match was changed away from the much larger Cairo International Stadium (then known as Nasser Stadium), many Egyptian fans rushed into the stadium fearing they would not get seats for the match.
It is estimated that 80,000 supporters tried to enter the stadium despite the capacity only being 40,000. A stampede ensued, and some walls collapsed, leading to the deaths of between 48 and 50 people, with death tolls varying between reports.
Oppenheimer Stadium – South Africa, 13 January 1991
Match: Kaizer Chiefs vs Orlando Pirates
The second-worst sports disaster in South African history, the Oppenheimer Stadium disaster, or Orkney Disaster, saw 42 people lose their lives. Thirty thousand people were admitted to a stadium with only 23,000 capacity and were not separated according to which team they supported, despite a fierce rivalry between the clubs.
After the Kaizer Chiefs scored a controversial goal, some Orlando Pirates fans threw various items at the Chiefs supporters. According to some reports, some Pirates supporters also attacked their Chiefs counterparts with knives. In the ensuing panic, supporters were trampled in a stampede or crushed up against riot-control fences.
National Sports Stadium – Zimbabwe, 9 July 2000
Match: Zimbabwe vs South Africa
After South Africa’s Delron Buckley scored an 82nd-minute goal to make it 2-0, he was struck on the head by one of a number of plastic water bottles thrown from the stands. In a complete overreaction, police fired tear gas into the crowd of nearly 60,000. A stampede to escape the gas ensued, and 13 people were killed, including a six-year-old.
The players on the pitch, who included Premier League names such as Quinton Fortune and Shaun Bartlett, could be seen writhing around on the pitch as they too were hit by the tear gas.
Ellis Park – South Africa, 11 April 2001
Match: Kaizer Chiefs vs Orlando Pirates
Just as it had been ten years prior, the Soweto Derby was the scene of a horrific disaster. In fact, the events of April 2001 surpassed those of 1991 as the deadliest in South African history.
Due to the authorities’ huge underestimation of the attendance, plans were only in place to deal with around 50,000 spectators. It has been reported that 120,000 supporters were admitted into the stadium – which was only supposed to hold 60,000 – with some security staff accepting bribes from fans wishing to enter.
Going against FIFA and SAFA (South African Football Association) guidance, the match was allowed to kick off while the situation outside the stadium was still completely out of control, and a goal scored by the Orlando Pirates brought about more chaos as supporters tried to see what was going on. Forty-three people were crushed to death.
Accra Sports Stadium – Ghana, 9 May 2001
Match: Accra Hearts of Oak vs Asante Kotoko
This match between Ghana’s two most successful sides ended in the deadliest disaster on this list, and the third-worst that football has ever seen, behind only the Estadio Nacional disaster and Kanjuruhan Stadium disaster in Peru and Indonesia, respectively.
After two late goals from the home team made it 2-1, some Kotoko fans began throwing plastic seats and bottles onto the pitch. In response, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, and fans rushed to the exits, only to find many of them locked.
The Ghana Institute of Architects has since called the stadium a “death trap”. Some reports also claim that medical staff had already left the stadium with the match approaching its conclusion. 126 people were killed in the chaos, most of them crushed to death.
One supporter passed out from the tear gas and was moved to a morgue, presumed dead. He was due to be buried until someone accidentally stepped on his foot and he regained consciousness. Ghana’s president called for three days of mourning and six police officers were charged with manslaughter.
Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny – Ivory Coast, 29 March 2009
Match: Ivory Coast vs Malawi
With some of the world’s biggest stars, among them Didier Drogba and Kolo Touré, due to play in this 2010 World Cup qualifier, some supporters outside the stadium began pushing, for fear that they would miss the start of the match. In an attempt to control the fans, police fired tear gas into the crowd, and 19 people died in the resulting stampede.
Astonishingly, the match went ahead despite the deaths, and the Ivory Coast won 5-0. The stadium will be in use at AFCON early next year.
Port Said Stadium – Egypt, 1 February 2012
Match: Al Masry vs Al Ahly
In front of the backdrop of the Arab Spring, the Port Said Stadium riot represents the second-worst stadium disaster in African history.
Following the conclusion of the game, Al Masry fans rushed onto the pitch and began attacking Al Ahly players, coaches and fans with clubs, stones, knives and fireworks. 74 people were killed, most of them directly by Al Masry fans but some in a crush as supporters tried to escape through a closed gate.
The police came under heavy criticism for not opening the gates, and not doing enough to stop Al Masry fans streaming onto the pitch.
Elsewhere, at another match in Cairo, the referee called the game off upon receiving news of events at Port Said. In response, some supporters set parts of the stadium on fire.
The aftermath held grave consequences for Egyptian football and for the country as a whole. Civil unrest and violence continued for almost two weeks and spread to Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.
Forty-seven people were convicted for their actions at Port Said, with 11 sentenced to death. The Egyptian government shut down the football league for two years, and, having witnessed Al Ahly fans die in the dressing room, three of Egypt’s top players – Mohamed Aboutrika, Mohamed Barakat and Emad Moteab – immediately retired from football.
Al Ahly players all wear the number 72 during the warm up in honor of the victims of the Port Said Stadium Disaster. First time seeing it in person. pic.twitter.com/SAQzgicIxl
— Mena (@menaaaly) April 22, 2023
30 June Stadium – Egypt, 8 February 2015
Match: Zamalek vs ENPPI
Three years later, almost to the day, Egypt saw another disaster, this time in Cairo. After some ticketless fans tried to gain access to the stadium, police began firing tear gas and shotgun pellets indiscriminately into the crowd. Twenty-eight people died in the ensuing panic.
Much like Al Ahly, Zamalek’s fanbase played a significant role in pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring, and some have speculated that the police were deliberately heavy-handed in response. Once again, the Egyptian league was halted, this time for two months.
Bingu Stadium – Malawi, 5 July 2017
Match: Nyasa Big Bullets vs Silver Strikers
After the opening of the stadium gates was delayed by three hours, some supporters tried to force their way into the ground. Malawian police, despite the well-detailed problems that tear gas has caused in various stadium disasters throughout the continent, fired on the supporters.
Eight people, seven of which were children, died in the stampede. President Peter Mutharika was due to attend the fixture but cancelled due to the situation. The match went ahead as planned with Nyasa Big Bullets running out 2-1 winners.
FNB Stadium – South Africa, 29 July 2017
Match: Orlando Pirates vs Kaizer Chiefs
Just seven years after it hosted the World Cup final, the largest stadium in Africa saw a stampede which left two supporters dead. Once again, tragedy befell the Soweto Derby.
The cause of the stampede has never been officially identified, but it occurred just outside one of the turnstiles, and some have speculated a large number of fake tickets may have brought it about.
Olembe Stadium – Cameroon, 24 January 2022
Match: Cameroon vs Comoros
The most recent and only one of these disasters to occur at an AFCON match, the Yaoundé Stadium disaster claimed the lives of eight supporters. With no assigned seating, the outside of the stadium saw a huge bottleneck at the south entrance. Security directed fans to another gate, only for the supporters to find it locked.
When the gate was eventually opened, people began streaming through and a stampede developed. The match went ahead as planned, with many supporters not even realising the distressing scenes outside the ground.