Eight people were killed and dozens more injured in a crush outside a Cameroonian football stadium ahead of an Africa Cup of Nations match, officials said Tuesday.
Cameroonian President Paul Biya ordered an investigation into the tragedy that occurred Monday as crowds attempted to enter the Olembe Stadium in the capital Yaounde to watch the host nation play the Comoros.
Although crowds at the 60,000-seat stadium had been limited to 60 percent of capacity for the tournament because of the coronavirus pandemic, the cap is raised to 80 percent when Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions play.
“Eight deaths were recorded, two women in their 30s, four men in their 30s, one child, one body taken away by the family,” said a preliminary health ministry report obtained by AFP.
The ministry said victims were “immediately transported” in ambulances, but “heavy road traffic slowed down the transport”.
Communications Minister Rene Emmanuel Sadi said 38 people were injured, including seven seriously, according to a statement.
The health ministry reported earlier that around 50 were hurt, including two people with multiple injuries and two more with serious head wounds.
A baby was also reportedly trampled by the crowd, the ministry added. The infant was “immediately extracted and taken to Yaounde General Hospital” and is in a “medically stable” condition, it added.
The tragedy happened at gates where final ticket checks are supposed to take place.
One man in his 30s who was caught up in the crush told AFP that it was “complete chaos” at the entrance to the stadium as supporters without tickets tried to force their way in.
“I arrived a quarter of an hour before kick-off. I had my ticket, but all of a sudden a group of people without tickets arrived and tried to force their way through and we found ourselves pushed up against the fences,” said the supporter, who gave his name as Stephane.
“I was crushed up against a woman who said she couldn’t breathe. Eventually the gate gave in and I was able to get through, but it was complete chaos.”
President Biya has “ordered the opening of an investigation so that all light is shed on this tragic incident,” the communications minister said.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF), which runs the continent’s flagship competition, said it was “investigating the situation and trying to get more details on what transpired”.
It added it was in “constant communication with Cameroon government and the Local Organizing Committee”.
Cameroon’s health minister Manaouda Malachie tweeted images showing him visiting a hospital treating those injured in the incident.
“Everything is done to give them free care and the best support,” he tweeted.
CAF was due to hold a “crisis meeting” with the organising committee on Tuesday, dedicated exclusively to security issues in the stadiums, a source close to African football’s governing body told AFP.
The government, Sadi said, is “once more appealing to Cameroonians’ sense of responsibility, discipline and civic duty for the total success of this great sporting event.”
Cameroon was initially meant to host the Cup of Nations in 2019, but the event was moved to Egypt over concerns the country’s stadiums were not ready.
CAF cited delays in the construction of stadiums and infrastructure projects, as well as question marks over security.
Overcrowding at football matches around the world has resulted in scores of deaths.
Thousands of fans in the Egyptian capital Cairo in 2015 attempted to enter a stadium to watch a game, triggering panic as police fired tear gas and birdshot, resulting in 19 dead.
In April 2001, 43 people died in a stampede at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium during a game between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.
In chaotic scenes at last year’s European Championship final between England and Italy in London, some 2,000 ticketless fans were found to have gained access to Wembley Stadium, with an independent review later finding that a tragedy was only narrowly averted.
On the pitch on Monday, Cameroon sealed their place in the last eight of the tournament with a 2-1 win and will now play Gambia in the quarter-finals.
That match is due to be played on Saturday in Cameroon’s economic capital Douala, although there had been speculation that remaining matches scheduled to be played there could be moved to Yaounde due to concerns about the state of the pitch.