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May 9 disaster: A 22-year dark cloud still hovering over Ghana’s football legacy

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On May 9, 2001, some 126 football fans at the Accra Sports Stadium lost their lives with many more injured in what was and still is Ghana and Africa’s biggest stadium disaster.

22 years on, the memory of the day still remains with people in different ways with an annual reminder that never again should we reach that precipice in Ghanaian football again.

Recalling the event
On May 9, 2001, two of Ghana’s most successful football clubs, Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko met in a league match at the Accra Sports Stadium in another episode of their intense rivalry.

With the game starting at 5 pm, the Accra Sports Stadium was full at 10 am, according to Joseph Wilson Sey, who officiated the game.

After a goalless first half, Lawrence Adjei shocked the home side, Accra Hearts of Oak, in the 60th minute of the game with a nice strike to give Kotoko the lead.

The Phobians equalised through Ishmael Addo 17 minutes after the opener, and they went 2-1 up with just 10 minutes left to play as Addo grabbed his second goal of the day.

However, the goal did not sit well with the Kotoko fans, as they argued that the goal should have been ruled out as Addo was thought to have been offside.

According to Joseph Wilson Sey, his decision to allow the goal to stand was accurate and the fans did not have to react the way they did.

“People say my assistant raised his flag, yes he did. But for a different infringement. The infringement was for the same attacker but they already had the advantage.

The laws of the game say you should play on, so I allowed the game to continue and the assistant brought his flag down.

And where this gentleman moved to pick the ball had nothing to do with a foul. By law, everything was perfect. He picked the ball and scored.

Yes, some people made noise, but it ended and we continued the game.

I did nothing wrong and I have no guilt. I feel bad someone losing their father, brother but the blame that we triggered the event is totally false,” Wilson disclosed in an interview with TV3 three years ago.

Some angry Kotoko fans broke portions of the plastic seats at the stadium and threw them onto the running tracks and the field, disrupting the game.

The police responded by firing canisters of tear gas towards the upset fans in a bid to stop their actions.

In turn, the fans tried running away from the tear gas in order to find relief and that led to some major problems on the ground.

With the gates of the stadium locked and medical officers not found, the hour-long chaos led to the death of 116 people due to comprehensive asphyxia (chest compression) i.e. the inability to breathe.

Ten other deaths were later recorded.

Aftermath

The Ghana Police Service was blamed by some sections of the public for the incident as it was reported that the security service over-reacted leading to misbehaviour and indiscriminate actions.

The Sam Okudzeto Commission of Inquiry, which was set up by the then-Ghana president, John Agyekum Kufuor, to look into the carnage, fingered six police officers and recommended their prosecution.

All six officers – Chief Superintendent of Police, Koranteng Mintah, ASP Faakyi Kumi, ASP Frank Awuah, ASP Frank Aryee, ASP John Naami and ASP B.B. Bakomora – were each charged with 127 counts of manslaughter, but were later acquitted after a submission of no case was upheld by a court.

The commission of inquiry recommended improvements at the various stadia in the country such as security and first aid facilities, and that nationwide rapid response teams should be set up.

Lessons
Years after, the Accra Sports Stadium has seen various renovations and improvements with a major uplift done prior to the hosting of the AFCON 2008. The upgrades included more exits to help fans leave the stadium in a rush without any issues if the need ever came up.

The current GFA, headed by Kurt E.S Okraku, has over the years run a series of campaigns to sound home the warning that hooliganism has no place in football.

The then Chairman of Kumasi Asante Kotoko, Herbert Mensah, has memorialized that tragedy with a fund, the Stadium Disaster Fund and other series of events.

In 2016, an annual Memorial “May 9th Cup” was set created to mark the day and symbolize an event which must never happen again.

With these lessons running, some football fans still engage in these distasteful acts of hooliganism with the most recent happening in April when Tamale City players and officials were attacked after their game against Betpawa Ghana Premier League leaders, Aduana Stars.

The Disciplinary Committee of the Ghana Football Association in their sanctions imposed a fine of GHC 20,000 on Aduana Stars and a home venue ban after they were found guilty of misconduct, in their Match Week 25 betPawa Premier League encounter, against Tamale City at the Nana Agyeman Badu Park.

As today marks the 22nd anniversary of the disaster, we, from Citi Sports say “NEVER SHOULD THIS HAPPEN AGAIN”.

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