YAOUNDE CAMEROON — Cameroon officials blame a “massive” crowd of ticketless supporters who arrived late for a match involving the host team. They tried to force their way into the stadium to avoid security screening and COVID-19 screening.
The government responded by deploying 250 additional police officers to Cameroon for Saturday’s quarterfinal against Gambia at a new stadium.
Eight people were killed and 38 others were injured in Monday’s Cameroon/Comoros final 16 match at the African Cup main Olembe Stadium, Yaounde. Seven of these injuries were serious. It was the worst stadium accident in the history Africa’s largest soccer tournament.
At Friday’s news conference, Narcisse Mouelle Kmbi, Cameroon’s Sports Minister, stated that although the final results of an investigation by the government were not yet available but that he had some additional information.
Nearly 60,000 people tried to enter the Olembe game, Kombi stated. However, the maximum crowd allowed was 48,000 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
African Cup organizers made it mandatory for fans to show proof of negative virus testing and proof that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to be allowed to attend the games.
Many fans did not have tickets and didn’t meet the COVID-19 screening criteria, so they forced their way in. Kombi stated. Local TV stations broadcast footage of fans scaling security fences during the crush.
Kombi stated that although he could not give the results of the investigations ordered by Cameroon President Paul Biya, the huge and late influx at Yaounde Olembe stadium was responsible for the crush.
Kombi also stated that the fans arrived late after they had seen an earlier match on TV.
The authorities have not yet provided any explanations as to why security personnel directed fans towards a locked gate, as witnesses claim. This may have contributed to the crush. Or why security was so weak and easy to overwhelm.
Kombi is also president of Cameroon’s local organizing committee for this tournament.
He stated that increased security was necessary for Cameroon’s match against Gambia at the Douala commercial capital. This was to stop “uncivil behavior” by Cameroonians who try to force their way into the stadium without entry tickets or negative COVID-19 results.
Kombi stated that organizers will no longer allow children younger than 11 years old to attend games, after many children were caught up at the Olembe crush.
Due to the crush, the Confederation of African Football (which runs the African Cup along with local organizers) has taken one of four quarterfinals from the Olembe Stadium. Patrice Motsepe, president of CAF, said that the Olembe will not host the semifinal or final on February 6, unless Cameroon soccer officials can ensure the games are safe.
An incident occurred at Japoma Stadium, Douala on Saturday when 40 people invaded the field after the game. Some fans grabbed players and were eventually dragged off the field.
Martin Mbarga Nguelle, Cameroon Police Chief, said that he personally oversaw security preparations for Cameroon’s quarterfinal.
This is the first African Cup hosted by Central Africa in 50 years. The preparations for it have been closely scrutinized. CAF pulled it out of hosting the 2019 event due to problems in its stadium preparations.
CAF had warned Cameroon a while back that security and facilities at the Olembe were not up to par. They threatened to remove the opening game from the arena of 60,000 seats, which Cameroon spent over $300 million to construct for the African Cup.