On this day in 2001, during a soccer match at Accra Stadium in Ghana, an encounter between police and rowdy fans results in a stampede that kills 126 people. This tragedy was the worst-ever sports-related disaster in Africa’s history to that time.
The Accra Hearts of Oak, playing at home, were leading in their match against archrival Asante Kotoko of Kumasi when Asante fans began tearing up seats and throwing them on the field. Police on the field responded by firing tear gas into the crowd. The crowd, estimated at many thousands above the stated stadium capacity of 45,000, fled for the gates. However, the gates were locked and people at the exits were crushed to death by the masses behind them also trying to leave.
Witnesses at the scene reported that they pleaded with the police to refrain from making the situation any worse by spraying more gas. Ebenezer Nortey, an injured fan, later said It was all the fault of the police. We started begging the police not to fire any tear gas again. But they went ahead. Later, anger at the police role in the tragedy led to relatives shouting anti-police slogans outside a morgue where the dead were being identified.
In the months leading to the incident, there had been several other disasters at soccer matches in Africa. On April 11, 43 fans lost their lives in South Africa and on April 29, a stampede in the Congo killed eight people. In fact, the previous 10 years of soccer in Africa had seen one disaster after another. Most of them were caused by the overcrowding of stadiums because of rampant corruption among ticket takers, the locking of security gates, under-training of security forces and the indiscriminate use of tear gas. In Nigeria at the time of the Accra disaster, tear gas was used on soccer crowds on a weekly basis.
In the 1980s, Europe had experienced similar problems, which culminated on April 15, 1989, in the Hillsborough Stadium disaster in which 95 people were killed and more than 200 injured at an F.A. Cup semifinal match. Significant reforms were instituted following that incident and large-scale disasters at soccer matches were later largely confined to South America and Africa, where reforms had not yet been implemented.