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06 December 2023

Analysis: Rioting fans responsible for Egypt deaths

Egyptian Al Ahly players escape from the field as fans of Al Masry team rush after them during riots that erupted after the football match between the two teams in Port Said, in Cairo, on Wednesday. (AFP)

By Reuters

In terms of global visibility there could hardly be a greater contrast between Wednesday’s soccer disaster in Egypt which claimed the lives of at least 73 people and the world’s worst recorded stadium disaster in which 340 people died in Moscow in 1982.

Video footage of the riot in Port Said between fans of the home side Al Masry and Egypt’s most successful team Al Ahli was seen by millions around the world on the Internet within minutes of it unfolding. 
But the disaster in Moscow was covered up for seven years by the Soviet authorities who originally said 66 people died but later admitted - in July 1989 - that 340 people had lost their lives on Oct. 20 1982 when Moscow Spartak played Harlem of the Netherlands in a UEFA Cup match at the Luzhniki Stadium. 

Those fans died after Spartak scored a late goal and fans leaving the stadium were crushed on an open stairway and in a corridor when departing spectators surged back into the stadium only to be met by fans leaving the ground. 

That was also found to be the main cause of the Ibrox Stadium disaster in Glasgow on Jan. 2 1971 when 66 people were trampled to death at the end of a match between fierce Scottish rivals Rangers and Celtic.

Departing fans turned back to the stadium after hearing the roar of a late goal, causing dozens of people to tumble over those climbing up the stairs and sending them all to their deaths. 

Until the Moscow disaster of 1982 was revealed, the world’s worst stadium disaster was recorded as taking place in Lima, Peru in 1964 when 318 fans died and hundreds more were injured after a goal was disallowed in an Olympic qualifier between Peru and Argentina.  

Fans rioted, soldiers fired tear-gas, chaos reigned and hundreds died. 

There have been other significant death tallies after riots in Nepal’s national stadium in 1988 when over 100 died, in South Africa in 1991 when 43 people were killed at a Kaizer Chiefs-Orlando Pirates match and in February 1974 in Egypt when 49 fans were killed trying to gain access to see Zamalek play Dulkla Prague of the former Czechoslovakia. 

Africa’s worst tragedy before Wednesday’s occurred in May 2001 when around 126 people were killed in a stampede in the Ghanaian capital of Accra. 
Three serious tragedies had a massive impact on safety at European stadiums in the 1980s. 

Safety and security were generally tightened everywhere following the Bradford City fire in England in 1985 which claimed 56 lives, the Heysel Stadium disaster two weeks later in which 39 died and the Hillsborough disaster in England in 1989 when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death at an FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield when Liverpool played Nottingham Forest. 
Ironically, Wednesday’s incident in Egypt comes two days after the French FA said that no matches would be played on May 5 this year to mark the 20th anniversary of the disaster in Corsica in 1992 when 18 fans were killed at a French Cup semi-final between Bastia and Marseille when a temporary stand collapsed. 

Those kind of stands would not be allowed at a major match today. 

UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, recently issued a guide to “quality stadiums” in which its general secretary Gianni Infantino expressed the need for the best design and construction to ensure that stadiums were safe. 

“Stadium design in Europe is already of a very high standard and a number of excellent quality venues have been developed. Everything we can do at UEFA to help support, nurture and encourage good and conscientious stadium design and building will be of enormous benefit to football and local communities,” he said. 

The Stadium in Port Said, a multi-use 18,000 all-seater venue, was built in 1955 and more than met FIFA’s standards after modern improvements and hosted matches in the 2006 African Cup of Nations and the World Under-20 Cup in 2009. 
Unlike other disasters the stadium could not be faulted for the resulting loss of life which appears to be due entirely to human failings.