Examining the most recent football stadium disaster and the continuing loss of life in Egypt

The game of football can bring out many powerful emotions in its fans; joy, frustration, relief, rage, euphoria, jealously, and anguish to describe but a few. Unfortunately every now and then indescribable and overwhelming grief can emerge as a result of events at a football match. It is not the kind of grief one feels when they watch the team they support lose a local derby, or are pipped to a title with the last kick of the season, or are perhaps relegated from the league. No this outpouring of grief comes from watching friends and loved ones perish either through unforeseeable accidents, negligence, or wanton acts of violence.

On 1st February 2012 a riot broke out following Port Said-based Al-Masry defeated Cairo’s Al-Ahly, 3-1. When the clashes between supporters began, about 22,000 people were inside the stadium with approximately 2,000 Al-Ahly fans at the game. Fans from both sides attacked each other with rocks and chairs and knives. Many of those who died fell from the terraces during the melee inside the stadium, while others suffocated. It is still unclear whether the intense sporting rivalry or political strife sparked the riots, though witnesses said tension was building through the game with Port Said fans throwing bottles and rocks at players on the Cairo team. In the end The Port Said football incident left 74 people dead and a 1,000 others injured.

On 26th January 2013, almost a year after what has been dubbed the “massacre at Port Said” by Egyptian media, an Egyptian judge has sentenced 21 people to death for their roles in the incident. The ruling has sparked deadly clashes between security forces and relatives of the convicted with at least 30 more people killed and hundreds injured. Under Egyptian law the sentences must be reviewed by the country’s highest religious authority, who will return their opinion to the court on 9th March 2013. Perhaps somewhat ironically an additional 54 defendants in the case will also be sentenced on the same date. A video report from the BBC showing the judge’s verdict and the unrest that followed can be seen here.

To some the death penalties handed down to the 21 defendants will be seen as justice being served, but is this perhaps too easy? Egypt’s interior ministry blamed fans at the time for provoking police but witnesses at the scene said tha police did little to try to quell the clashes at the stadium. During a mass demonstration last week in Cairo’s Tahiri Square, Al-Ahly ultras chanted, “Retribution against the leaders of the Interior Ministry and military who masterminded the (Port Said) is easy. Death is coming for both.”Pressure from both sides has been exerted on both the newly formed government and the judiciary over recent months to try and bring about one outcome or the other.

Clearly both sides are entrenched and emotions have been running high. Regardless of the outcome at the sentencing hearing last week it was highly likely that violence would have erupted from one side or the other. The mere fact that capital punishment exists within Egypt and that the question has been asked as to whether or not the defendants in the case deserve the ultimate punishment a court can impose has helped to inflame matters further and to perpetuate the cycle of violence and death in the country that has seen much of the same over the past 12 months.

The final fate of the defendants in this case continues to hang in the balance. What is certain is that the events of 1st February 2012 at Port Said will go down in history as the latest in a long line of football stadium disasters that will live long in the memories of those that survived and in the memories of those that have lost loved ones.

Chronology of Football Stadium Disasters

1902 – Ibrox Park, Glasgow – 25 are killed and 517 injured when the West Stand collapses during an international between England and Scotland. The game ends in a 1-1 draw but is later erased from official records.

1946 – Burnden Park, Bolton – 33 die and 500 are injured when a wall collapses during a cup tie between Bolton and Stoke.

1955 –  Santiago, Chile – Six people died when 70,000 tried to jam into the stadium for the finals of the South American soccer tournament. Argentina beat Chile 1-0.

1964 – Lima, Peru – More than 300 fans die in a riot during an Olympic qualifying match between Argentina and Peru.

1967 – Turkey – A disallowed goal in a Turkish game provokes a riot in which 41 die and 600 are hurt.

1968 – Buenos Aires, Argentina – 74 die after a match between River Plate and Boca Juniors when fans, trying to escape burning newspaper being thrown down from an upper tier, rush towards a gate pushed shut by fans on the other side, unaware of them.

1971 – Ibrox Park, Glasgow – 66 people die in a crowd crush near the end of a match between Celtic and Rangers. The incident occurs when fans leaving the stadium are met by a group trying to return after hearing that Rangers had scored an equaliser.

1971 – Cairo, Egypt – Crowds attempting to enter a match at Zamalek Stadium break down barriers and a wall, leading to 48 deaths and 50 injuries.

1981 – Piraeus, Greece – 24 people die in a stampede as fans rush to leave the ground.

1982 – Moscow, USSR – Up to 340 people are crushed to death when fans leaving the stadium try to re-enter the stands after a last-minute goal in a UEFA Cup tie between Moscow Spartak and Dutch side Haarlem at the Luzhniki stadium, according to Sovietsky Sport. The government newspaper Izvestia puts the death toll at 66.

1982 – Cali, Colombia – 24 people die and 250 are hurt when drunken fans provoke a stampede at a match.

1982 –  Algiers, Algeria – A concrete roof at a stadium collapses, killing 10 spectators.

1985 – Valley Parade, Bradford – A fire, which started in rubbish underneath a  stand, kills 56 fans.

1985 – Brussels, Belgium – 39 fans, mostly Italians, die in rioting before the European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus at the Heysel Stadium.

1988 – Kathmandu, Nepal – A stampede towards locked exits in a hailstorm at Nepal’s national soccer stadium produces the country’s worst civilian disaster when 70 fans are killed.

1989 – Hillsborough, Sheffield – 96 people are killed and at least 200 injured in Britain’s worst sports disaster as packed fans were crushed against barriers at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

1992 – Bastia, France – At least eight people are killed and 400 injured when a crowded temporary stand collapses at a match between Bastia and Marseille.

1996  – Lusaka, Zambia – Nine soccer fans were crushed to death and 78 others injured during a stampede following Zambia’s victory over Sudan in a World Cup qualifying game.

1996 – Guatemala City, Guatemala – 84 people died and about 150 others were injured during a stampede at a stadium before a World Cup qualifying match between Guatemala and Costa Rica.

1997 – Lagos, Nigeria – Five fans were crushed to death and more than a dozen were hospitalised when, following Nigeria’s 2-1 World Cup qualifying victory over Egypt, the crowd of 40,000 head for exits only to find three of the five main gates locked.

2000 – Monrovia, Liberia – Three people suffocated to death and others were injured as thousands of fans forced their way into an overcrowded stadium for a World Cup qualifier between Liberia and Chad.

2000 – Harare, Zimbabwe – 13 fans died after police fired tear gas into a crowd estimated at 50,000 to quell growing unruliness. The fans were killed in the stampede exiting the stadium.

2001 – Johannesburg, South Africa – At least 43 people were killed, including two children, and 155 injured during a league match between Kaiser Chiefs and Orlando Pirates at an overcrowded soccer stadium. People outside tried to push into Ellis Park stadium and were trapped against barbed wire. Police had earlier fired tear gas at people stampeding outside the stadium.

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For more posts on football stadium disasters or capital punishment please see the following; The Forgotten Victims of Hillsborough, Amicus-ALJ and their fight against the death penalty in the US, and Does the end justify the means in law?

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the writer and this article does not constitute legal advice.

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