Safety, Security at Sport Events

By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

THE RECENT death of 17 football fans and injury to hundreds others during a stampede in Northern Angola is another rude awakening for sport leaders as well as law enforcement and security agencies.      

This challenge of stadium security and safety is not just one for Angola. Moreover, it is also not an isolated incident or occurrence. The whole of southern Africa is affected by this problem.

One of the important lessons to be learnt from this tragedy is fan education and engagement on security matters.

Fans must know that it is dangerous to bring flares and other forms of pyrotechnics into an event.

These things must be written on the tickets as a condition of admission as well as at airports bus and train stations.

Furthermore, greater efforts must be made at combating organised hooliganism at sport events. Hooliganism is a dangerous threat to public safety at major sport events.

There is a dire need for sharing of intelligence among law enforcement agencies to ensure that members as well as organisers and ringleaders of these organised groups of violent people are barred from getting anywhere near major sport events.

Although occurrences of organised hooliganism are rare in Africa, incidences of serious violence in stadiums have been reported in Egypt where great numbers of people have even lost their lives.

Whether we like it or not, sport events and security issues will always be intertwined in the modern world. Safety of athletes, officials and spectators is of paramount importance in modern sport.

Africa, particularly southern Africa, is slowly making in-roads into the sport mega-events industry.

This also requires constant improvement on organisational standards. On 11 April 2001, sport lovers in South Africa, southern Africa and indeed the international community were shocked by the Ellis Park disaster where 43 people lost their lives and 158 were seriously injured at a match involving Kaizer Chiefs FC and Orlando Pirates FC.

This was a terribly harsh and crucial lesson for everybody in terms of event organisation and management. Nowadays, it is now crucial, even at facility design stage to take into account safety issues. There is need to make provisions for speedy entry and evacuation of people in any sport facility.

It is hoped that African continental authorities such as the Confederation of African Football (CAF) are also learning serious lessons from what has happened in Angola.

There have been isolated incidences of crowd trouble at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The fact that these have been nowhere near what is experienced in Europe cannot be a cause for celebration.

It is the responsibility of the sport organisations and leaders to develop good working relationships with the police and other security agencies in order to identify risk factors and totally eliminate them in the preparation and organisation of sport events at every level.

It is absolutely important that even though sport leaders are not security experts, they are able to make arrangements to ensure safety, fun and enjoyment at their events.  Sport is about solidarity, making friends and building communities.

A sport event should be a welcoming environment where families can congregate to socialise and enjoy themselves. Sport events should not be places or gatherings where there is a high probability that you might lose limbs or your very life.

Safety precautions and guidelines should also be written clearly and posted at facilities so that people know what to do and how to behave in case of emergency.  Panic and stampedes are the major causes of death at sport events.

The presence of armed police and security might give a picture of militarisation of sport matters but sometimes it is actually a good thing.

Coupled with vigilance, it acts as a deterrent to miscreants, hooligans and terrorists who are hell-bent on creating chaos at major sport events.

As the globalisation and commercialisation of sport continues unabated, Southern Africa will also attract its fair share of mega-events.

There is need for sport leaders to be prepared in order to provide best possible organisation of memorable events which add value to the sports legacy and heritage. Shoddily organised competitions are not safe events.

In fact, sport governing authorities should actually be demanding plans for major sport event management from clubs and national sports associations.

Safety and security issues should be covered as major components, where the inputs of the local police have been made.

Thorough checklists need to be developed and signed off by both the event organisers and police, otherwise an event cannot and should not take place.

This will also help sports administrators to develop, adopt and implement high standards in event organisation and management.

The Africa Cup of Nations tournaments continue to be good test cases for event management  and organisational excellence  As the wise elders say, “It is better to be safe than to be sorry.”

The Southern Times Africa Sports Forum will continue to make clarion calls for safety and security at major events in the region and the continent at large.

It is a fact that disasters do not just happen by themselves at major sport events. Organisers are ultimately responsible for such disasters! In all kinds of industries safety should never be compromised. Sport should not be an exception!

March 2017
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