The Carling Black Label Cup, the traditional season curtain-raiser between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, is supposed to be ‘made for the fans’. Soccer fans from the two biggest clubs in the country vote in to select the starting line-ups for both teams and fans vote in to decide which players get substituted as the game progresses. Two fans even get the chance to be coach for the two teams for the day, assisted by actual coaches Steve Komphela and Kjell Jonevret. So when news started leaking that two fans had died and several injured in a stampede outside the stadium, it struck a sensitive chord among many followers of the game.
It matters little which team you support, the death of a fellow football supporter moves you in a strange, if uncomfortable way. Questions started to surface on whether the stampede took place before, during or after the game. Naturally, these were followed by whether the game should have been immediately stopped in light of this unfortunate event. Its a reaction that makes sense, but sometimes even the most sensible act is not very practical.
It takes time for the police to investigate and to get assistance for those who are injured. It takes even more time to relay accurate information to relevant authorities. Families may have to be notified (admittedly this can be done at a later stage). In this age of social media, platforms like twitter and Facebook can spread the word (and the image) at the exact moment something happens, so one can expect the general public to know before officials. Match commentators and clubs (for example through twitter accounts) cannot make official comments before due investigations have been made and they are authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Imagine a commentator saying “Paez passes to Ekstein, but it goes wide. By the way two supporters were killed just outside the stadium…” The panic and pandemonium that would ensue could put more lives at risk. As such, it makes sense to continue the game. Also, remember that the accident happened outside the stadium, not inside.
While some already believed the match is just a marketing gimmick to fleece fans (that deserves a separate article altogether), there is no doubt a dark cloud hangs around this event now.
There have been precedents. The Ellis Park disaster where 43 fans died in 2001 rings a painful bell – the game was stopped here (fans inside the stadium were among the fatalities). Some even asked if a rugby game would have been stopped in the same circumstance. But that is a hypothetical argument. The closest comparison to today’s event is the 2015 match between France and Germany at the State de France in Paris, where terrorist attacks just outside the stadium caused hysteria and anxiety for those who knew. Yet the game continued. Canceling a game of this magnitude has several far-reaching effects.
What matters now is what is done tomorrow. You expect a minute’s silence will be observed for those who passed away at the next official football games. The two clubs will offer to cover the funeral expenses and maybe even visit the affected families. But will that be enough? The PSL, sponsors, stadium security and the clubs must ensure the investigation reveals exactly what happened. And those responsible must be held accountable.
For the fans whose lives have been lost, may their souls rest in peace.