AFCON final confirmed for Olembe Stadium, site of deadly stampede that killed 8 people

The Africa Cup of Nations final will take place at Cameroon’s Olembe Stadium as originally planned after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) received a report on the causes of a deadly stampede that occured at the stadium of a match last week.

Eight people were killed and 38 were injured, seven seriously, in a crush that took place at the stadium before a round of 16 match between hosts Cameroon and Comoros last Monday. The tragedy prompted CAF to move Sunday’s quarterfinal between Morocco and Egypt from the Olembe to the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium, which is located in the centre of the capital city of Yaounde.

Following last Wednesday’s hearing between the CAF’s safety and security department and the local organising committee, the confederation confirmed on Sunday that the Feb. 3 semifinal and the Feb. 6 final would be kept at the 60,000-seat Olembe Stadium, located on the outskirts of Yaounde, albeit with greater security measures.

“The report highlighted the extensive onsite meetings and discussions which were held with senior representatives of the police, the gendarmerie, the military, together with high-ranking Cameroonian Government, Defence, and Police Ministers inclusive of the Governor of Yaounde and other stakeholders,” read CAF’s statement on the decision, as seen by ESPN. “The report dealt with and highlighted the tragic circumstances which led to thirty eight people being injured and eight fatalities.

“The report further highlighted the recommendations and interventions to ensure that a tragedy of this nature should never be repeated.”

Burkina Faso will play Senegal on Feb. 2 at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in the tournament’s first semifinal, while Cameroon-Egypt will be at the Olembe Stadium on Feb. 3.

The Olembe Stadium has been capped at 80% capacity (48,000 spectators) for Cameroon’s matches throughout the tournament in light of the coronavirus pandemic, with restrictions implemented in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.

That did not deter supporters from arriving en masse to support the tournament hosts against Comoros, as well as their subsequent quarterfinal victory over Gambia at the Japoma stadium in the city of Douala.

“Having noted the recommendations and undertakings from Government in regard to additional security provisions over and above those which were already successfully implemented at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium during the Morocco-Malawi match and at the Japoma Stadium during the Gambia-Cameroon match, the CAF Organising Committee unanimously agreed to lift the suspension imposed on the Olembe Stadium,” the statement continued.

“CAF, the Local Organising Committee and the Government of Cameroon having significantly increased security and resources at the Olembe Stadium, are confident that the safety and security of spectators and visitors will be assured.”

CAF announced in the aftermath of the disaster that they would launch an inquiry into the incident, with Cameroon’s head of state Paul Biya also announcing that a government inquiry would seek to establish the circumstances around the tragedy.

On Friday, Cameroon’s sports minister Narcisse Mouelle Kombi told reporters that a “massive and late influx of supporters and spectators … caused the crush,” according to the government’s findings.

The findings also stated that the door at the south entrance was “temporarily closed by police in the face of a surge of spectators while other doors were operation” and that “the security forces proceeded in a reckless manner to open the gate at the South Entrance, causing the stampede.”

Patrice Motsepe originally told ESPN last Tuesday after the incident that the stadium would not be used until further notice, and only when he and the tournament organisers were confident that there would be no repeat of the disaster.

While the CAF’s new statement does not go into detail on the circumstances that lead to the tragedy, Motsepe is convinced that greater measures will be put in place to avoid further fatalities.

“We must make changes to avoid the circumstances that can lead to such a situation,” Motsepe told ESPN on Tuesday. “I am confident and continue to be confident that the government of Cameroon is 100 percent committed [to ensuring safety] and I have no doubt I’ll get their commitment until the end.

“I have a fundamental duty as CAF president to ensure that facilities, infrastructure and safety at the stadiums are in line with standards worldwide; we can’t say that Africa is lower than global standards.

“Whether it’s safety or security, we have to ensure we’re in line with Europe and worldwide.”

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