WORLD governing body Fifa last night said it was not to blame after at least 16 people were hurt in a spectator stampede outside a World Cup warm-up match in Johannesburg.
In an incident that resurrects concerns over the ability of South Africa to host the sport’s biggest event just days before it begins, fans charged the gates of the Makhulong Stadium in the township of Tembisa.
Entry to the friendly between Nigeria and North Korea was free, and it is thought that the chaos unfolded when many more than the ground’s 10,000 capacity turned up for the match.
Fans at the scene spoke of being pushed to the ground, walked over and crushed as crowds twice surged towards the stadium’s gates.
At least 14 fans were injured, while two policemen were also hurt, one seriously.
Fifa and the tournament’s organising committee released a statement wishing those hurt a speedy recovery, but sought to ease fears of a repeat when the World Cup gets underway on Friday.
“Fifa and the organising committee would like to reiterate that this friendly match has no relation whatsoever with the operational organisation of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, for which we remain fully confident,” read the statement. “Contrary to some media reports, Fifa had nothing to do with the ticketing of this game.”
Eye-witness accounts describe scenes that will worry both South African officials and supporters travelling from around the globe to the tournament. “The crowd overpowered me and I went down,” said Japhta Mombelo. “I fell down and people just fell over me.” Another fan, Princess Mbali, added: “When we were coming in, they were just stepping on us. I thought I was dying. I was at the bottom.”
The Makhulong Stadium is not staging any games at the tournament. The policeman who was seriously hurt was said to have been crushed against one of the gates, but was last night in a stable condition.
South African Police Services said the trouble had been caused by confusion over ticketing arrangements.
Blatter praises South Africa’s World Cup effort
THE stampede in Johannesburg raised fresh questions about South Africa’s ability to host the World Cup, just as Fifa president Sepp Blatter was congratulating the country for winning over its doubters.
In a meeting with South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma, Blatter said they had worked hard to be the first nation from the continent to stage the tournament.
“It was a long way to come, but we did it,” he said. “You can say it’s a Fifa World Cup, but all the work to make this event possible has been done in this country.
“And when at the end of the day, compliments shall be given, it shall be given to South Africa and the African continent and I’m sure we will be able to do so.”
President Zuma added: “South Africa is more than ready.”