Fan stampede could have been avoided
Visiting Makhulong Stadium on Sunday afternoon for the Nigeria-North Korea friendly was the perfect opportunity to watch the Super Eagles in action, given that they will be Argentina's first rival in the World Cup. But the game lost all its importance before it had even started, as news reached the press box about a stampede at the gates that, in the end, left 15 people injured.
The stampede in progress.
FIFA was quick to say that it can't be blamed, fair enough because the organisation doesn't sanction these friendlies. It would also be very hard to prove that the incident shows South Africa is not ready to host the World Cup. Even the extent of responsibility that could be thrust upon Nigeria, as designated host team of the friendly, remains to be seen. But still, the game in Tembisa was an accident waiting to happen.
Is there a better way to describe the decision to make the Super Eagles play, for free, in a poor township at a relatively small stadium (12,000 full capacity, or, more like 8,000 since that was the number of tickets released)? To make matters worse, the tickets issued looked quite easy to forge.
Tembisa residents were surely eager to watch two World Cup teams, and especially an African favourite, without having to pay for the show. Nigerians are a big immigrant group in South Africa, including Joburg, and, undoubtedly, many of them made the trip to Makhulong on Sunday. Did anyone really expect them not to do so?
An hour before the match, there was already an immense crowd gathered around the gates, most of them wearing the green shirt of the Eagles or the yellow one of the Bafana Bafana. But there were just two gates with no turnstiles - and one of those was reserved for players, officials and media. One gate, 8,000 people? You do the maths.
Ironically, the stadium was never really packed full. Shortly before the game began, there were several gaps in most of the stands. Then the stampedes came and the police elected to close the gates, to reopen them fully only minutes before the game ended.
By the way, the show went on: The players were unaware of what was happening outside, and Nigeria beat North Korea 3-1.
Many fans probably didn't care at all, as close as they came to being crushed to death. They probably hope this near tragedy will, at least, keep some eyes wide open when the true competition begins.