The 20th anniversary of the May 9 Accra Stadium disaster was held yesterday at the entrance of the Accra Sports Stadium with various stakeholders pledging to purge hooliganism and violence out of football.
Under the tagline ‘Never Again – Say No to Hooliganism’, the occasion commemorated the tragedy that occurred at the Accra Sports Stadium on May 9, 2001 when the aftermath of a Hearts versus Kotoko league game turned bloody after police had fired tear gas into a violent crowd, resulting in a stampede that left 126 people dead.
The Minister of Youth and Sports (MoYS), Mustapha Ussif , Director General of the National Sports Authority (NSA) Prof Peter Twumasi, Vice President of the Ghana Football Association (GFA) Mr Mark Addo, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Asante Kotoko, Nana Yaw Amponsah and Hearts of Oak’s National Chapters Committee (NCC) chairman, Elvis Herman Hesse, Ghana League Clubs Association (GHALCA) chairman, Kojo Fianoo and GFA Exco member, George Amoako joined other dignitaries, families of the deceased and a small group of fans who took turns to perform the wreath-laying ceremony.
Clerk from the Presbyterian Church, Reverend Nii Noi Odonkor, Spokesperson for the National Chief Imam, Sheikh Aremeyaw Shaibu and Osu Wulomo, Nuumo Gbelenfo III offered prayers for the departed souls and their families.
Delivering the Keynote address, the Minister of Youth and Sports, Mustapha Ussif intimated that the greatest tribute Ghanaians can offer the departed ones was to ensure such tragedy was not repeated.
He called on stakeholders to chase hooliganism aggressively as a befitting preservation of the memory of the departed ones, reiterating that government was committed to investing in infrastructure to ensure that stadiums were safe for all.
He entreated fans to be disciplined when at match venues to forestall such unfortunate incidents in the future.
Vice President of the Ghana Football Association (GFA), Mark Addo also indicated that his outfit was putting place structures to make fans understand that football is just a game, adding that the GFA was making massive strides to improve the football brand which included the education of fans about football being a game that fostered unity, camaraderie, competition and patience.
He said more investments were needed to train security forces on how to professionally handle fans in tensed situations at stadiums.
As part of their commitment to improve security he disclosed that the GFA had invested in technology and infrastructure such as cameras to combat hooliganism.
The NSA Director- General, Prof Peter Twumasi said over the years, the authority had implemented findings of the Okudzeto Commission set-up in 2001 by former president John Agyekum Kuffour to look into the disaster.
Actions such as improvements in the entry and exit points at stadiums, availability of ambulances and emergency services which were taken by the NSA have vastly improved security at the various stadiums.
Kotoko CEO, Nana Yaw Amponsah reflected that the May 9 disaster was the second largest to be recorded in the world after the riots at the Estadio Nacional in Peru in 1964 claimed 328 lives – a history Ghana never wants to repeat.
He called on all football lovers to refrain from violence as a means of registering their protest or displeasure about a result or performance.
Hearts NCC Chairman, Herman Hesse called for a collective responsibility to weed out hooliganism out of the game as a means of immortalizing the memories of the departed souls forever.
It was also disclosed that the May 9 fund which was started to support families of the deceased was currently offering 50% support for 21 children, with 15 at the tertiary level, five at the Senior High School level and one studying a vocational course.
BY NANA BENTSI ODURO