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11.05.2007 Disaster

Any lessons from May 9?

By Stanley A Twum-Barima

Six years ago on Wednesday, the nation was greeted with the most horrible soccer disaster ever recorded in the history of Ghana sports. It was the fateful day on which 127 soccer fans lost their lives for no other reason than mere visiting the then Accra Sports Stadium (now Ohene Djan Sports Stadium) to watch their favourite clubs, Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko, in a titanic Premiership game.

It was a referee's decision over a Hearts" goal against their traditional rivals, Kotoko, that ignited the disaster. Irate fans started breaking the newly- installed plastic seats and hurled them on to the pitch. And for several minutes the upper terrace at the Race Course end was filled with tear gas from shots when the security personnel fired teargas canisters into the area, to curb the disorder.

This writer, who personally witnessed the horrible scene with his media colleagues from the stadium's Press Box, stood in awe as human beings dropped from the high terrace to the ground like pieces of wood being hurled to the ground.

So bizarre was the scene that some of us suffered several weeks of nightmares. Even on the occasion of this sixth year commemoration, one can hardly forget the "Black Wednesday" catastrophe.

But after six years of this national agony that has since broken the record in Stadium crowd violence in Africa, the question still agitating the minds of some sports enthusiasts is whether the nation has learned any lessons from this horrible disaster.

The Okudzeto Commission that was set up by Government to enquire into the circumstances that led to the disaster, made a number of recommendations that involved compensation to the bereaved families of those who lost their lives, as well as the injured. It also recommended that the police personnel, who were on duty, should be prosecuted in the law courts. However, the officers were tried and acquitted on charges of manslaughter.

The fund that was also set up for the education of the children of the victims to the Senior Secondary School level is however in operation, though nothing has been heard about the disbursement after the first publication in some local newspapers.

The Commission also charged the sports authorities to ensure that safety measures were taken at the various sports stadiums and playing parks being used for competitive games.

The good news is that Ghana's hosting of the CAN 2008 has opened the floodgates for some of these safety measures to be included in the two new stadiums in Tamale and Essipong, near Sekondi. The Ohene Djan Stadium in Accra and the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi will also have the new safety features incorporated into their new designs.

But, having provided these new stadiums with the necessary safety measures, what happens to those in the other regions and districts, where the Premiership and the lower leagues are played?

Indeed, there are venues that are not fit to be used for competitive games like football. These venues are located in Nkawkaw, Kpando, Swedru, Berekum and other league centers. As for the lower leagues where matches are played on unfenced parks, the least said about them the better.

Undoubtedly, crowd violence has not abated on our playing grounds, as there are cases of hooliganism at these venues each time matches are played.

And now that we are commemorating the May 9 disaster, there is the need for the authorities to ensure that security measures are taken very seriously at all venues.

The Sports Bill, yet to be passed by Parliament, has a number of measures that will curb crowd violence. These include establishment of National Events Inspectorate, under the Ministry of National Security.

There is, therefore, the assurance that the Bill will take care of acts of violence that could degenerate into the unforgettable calamity that the nation experienced six years ago.

This, therefore, is the prayer of all peace loving Ghanaians: that never again should the nation suffer this kind of disaster, or indeed, any avoidable disaster.

Till next week, that's the way it is!