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YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – After a stampede at a soccer stadium left at least 8 people dead, Cameroon’s Christian leaders expressed their solidarity with the families of the victims.
Authorities are investigating the cause of Monday’s crush at Olembe Stadium in the Cameroonian capital of Yaoundé, which also left dozens of people injured.
The stadium was hosting Cameroon’s match against Comoros Islands in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) regional soccer tournament, which the country is hosting.
Computer student Glory Forgi had gone to Olembe to watch the match. She tried to enter the stadium, but ticket collectors had become overwhelmed by the crowds who pushed and jostled, and a closed gate gave way, allowing a flood of people through the narrow entry.
“There were far too many people struggling to get into the stadium through that gate,” said Forgi.
“I was in front and the people coming from behind pushed us down and trampled on us. I almost gave up the ghost,” she told Crux from her hospital bed.
“I was lucky, but many other people couldn’t cope with the weight of the population trampling on them,” she said.
Bishop Philippe Alain Mbarga of Ebolowa said in a Jan. 25 statement that he entrusted the “souls of all Cameroonians who died as a result of the incident at the entrance of the Olembe stadium” to the Lord.
“I pray for the bereaved families and reassure them of my prayerful closeness. To the injured, I wish them a speedy recovery! Let us not forget that suffering is part of our earthly life, as is death. We push it away, we groan when it knocks at our door,” the bishop said.
Archbishop Michel Nyemb of the Gallican Catholic Church in Cameroon – which is unaffiliated with the Catholic Church – said the incident “touches us deeply as Cameroonians” since the nation is the host of the AFICON tournament.
“We pray for the repose of the souls of those who died. We pray to the Most High God to heal those who are wounded, and those who were morally, psychologically and mentally broken. We ask the authorities in charge of security to put in place the necessary measures, so this type of incident never repeats itself,’’ he told Crux.
Patrice Motsepe, the president of Africa’s regional soccer federation, said he was saddened by the tragedy.
“I have the fundamental duty as the President of CAF to make sure that the circumstances, the infrastructure, and the facilities in the stadiums are in line with safety standards worldwide,” Motsepe said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“I am extremely disappointed, and sad and hurt at what happened and everything possible is going to be done to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Motsepe said the deaths occurred because basic safety protocols were not respected.
“That gate was supposed to be open because if it was open, they (the supporters) would have walked through, and for inexplicable reasons it was closed,” he said. “If that gate was open as it was supposed to, we wouldn’t have had this problem we have now, this loss of life. Who closed that gate? Who is responsible for that gate?”
Motsepe said CAF is “in constant communication with the Cameroon government and the Local Organizing Committee.”
As a temporary measure, CAF has transferred the AFCON quarter-final match that should have been played at Olembe on Jan. 30 to the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaoundé.
He announced that “players of all teams will wear black armbands” in memory of those who died.
Meanwhile, Cameroon’s President, Paul Biya said in a statement that he “extended his deepest commiserations to the affected families and his best wishes for a speedy recovery to those injured.”
Cameroon is hosting the Afcon for the first time since 1972, when they were ousted by the Democratic Republic of Congo in the semi-finals.
The country was denied hosting rights in 2019 over poor infrastructure, as well as security concerns triggered by the worsening separatist war to the west of the country and the COVID-19 pandemic.