AFCON tragedy: Motsepe says tournament will continue but opens investigation

By Samindra Kunti

January 26 – African football boss Patrice Motsepe has said that the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and local organisers bear “collective responsibility” for the deaths of eight supporters in a crush outside Yaounde’s Olembe Stadium at the last-16 match between Cameroon and Comoros.

The competition’s quarter-final that was scheduled for the same stadium has now been shifted to the city’s other Africa Cup of Nations venue, the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium..

On Monday, a crush outside the tournament’s main venue led to the loss of life of eight fans and dozens of injuries. Capacity at the host’s matches had already been reduced to 80% because of the global health crisis.

The tragedy has cast a dark shadow over the tournament. However, Motsepe, the South African billionaire who became CAF president last March, refused to engage in a blame game.

“When people get injured and people lose their lives the last thing I am interested in is it being somebody else’s responsibility,” said Motsepe at a news conference on Tuesday. “We have to take collective responsibility. Whatever the legalities are we will deal with them later.”

“I need a report of what happened, what should have happened and the circumstances that led to people being injured and losing their lives, as well as emergency steps to make sure it never happens again. This is why there’s no tolerance – zero tolerance – around the circumstances [of Monday’s tragedy].”

It is the first time that a major stadium tragedy has occurred at Africa’s flagship tournament, but CAF, Motsepe suggested, has not contemplated postponing or cancelling matches, or the tournament for that matter.

“From my side, there is a duty to consult and with the guidance of various stakeholders the conclusion was that we should observe a moment of silence,” said the CAF boss.

Those minutes of silence were observed before both Tuesday’s last-16 matches, but the fall-out of the tragedy will continue. On Wednesday, Motsepe will meet with local organisers to discuss further measures that need to be taken to ensure the tournament does not see further security problems. Sunday’s quarter-final at the Olembe Stadium will be moved to Yaounde’s Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium.

“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,” said Motsepe.

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

There had always been concerns about Cameroon’s hosting of the tournament. In 2019, the competition was shifted to Egypt at the eleventh hour over infrastructure shortfalls. The Covid-19 pandemic and further doubts over the country’s readiness led to more speculation, but in December Motsepe confirmed that the tournament would return to the West African country after half a century.

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