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May 9 Disaster: Remembering a Very Dark Day in Ghana’s Sports History

After almost 90 minutes of crack soccer, 126 people did not go back home again - never to see their families and loved ones forever.

To sum up the events of May 9, 2001, one will not be far from right to say – ‘a great day of soccer, but a doomsday for Ghanaians’. After almost 90 minutes of crack soccer, 126 people did not go back home again – never to see their families and loved ones forever.

Police guns spitting tear gas and rubber bullets had sent them to their untimely death.

The two giants of Ghana soccer – Kumasi Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak were at their rival best at the Accra Sports Stadium (formerly named the Ohene Djan Stadium).

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The stadium was packed to capacity with vociferous supporters and fans. They sang and beat drums while casually taunting each other. It was a spectacle to behold.

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Kotoko was leading by a lone goal scored in the 60th minute by Lawrence Adjei until the 77th minute when Ishmael Addo got the equalizer for Accra Hearts of Oak. Ishmael Addo scored again in the 80th minute putting Hearts in the lead of the titanic encounter.


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As if by design, hell broke loose. Some supporters not happy with the referee’s handling of the second Hearts goal started throwing chairs onto the field.

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May 9 disaster Ghana

The police reacted to the situation by raining tear gas and rubber bullets into the fans protesting against what they saw as bad officiating.

Panic and a stampede ensued as fans tried to escape. Gates were locked and the stadium’s compromised design left a bottleneck, with fewer exits than originally planned. Ghana Institute of Architects called the stadium a “death trap.” After the hour-long ordeal, it was found that 116 deaths resulted from compressive asphyxia and 10 fans died from trauma.

A fan, Abdul Mohammed, had passed out from the tear gas and was moved to a morgue, thought to be dead. He regained consciousness after someone stepped on his foot, narrowly missing being buried alive.


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Reports claim that medical staff had already left the stadium, as the incident happened near the end of the match. Some gates were locked, preventing escape.

May 9

In an interview with the BBC News, the Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports, Joe Aggrey, described the event as a devastating one with piles of bodies on the floors of the stadium.

The J. A. Kufuor Government then, set up a five-member commission under C.I 34. It had as Chairman, Mr. Sam OKudzeto, with Prof. G.K.A. Ofosu Amaah, Prof. Akua Kuenyehia, Dr. Agyeman Badu Akosa, and, Mr. Ken Bediako, as members.

The Commission’s terms of reference were:

  1. To investigate the causes and circumstances leading to the deaths and injuries suffered by spectators at the Accra sports stadium on the occasion of the Accra Hearts of Oak/Kumasi Asante Kotoko Football match;
  2. To inquire into the preparedness of the nation’s public bodies to deal with such disasters and emergencies;
  3. To inquire into any other matter which appears to the Commission to be incidental to, or reasonably relate to which in the opinion of the Commission ought to be inquired into;
  4. To make recommendations to prevent future occurrence of such disasters; to make recommendations to enhance the capacity of the nation’s public bodies to deal with disasters;
  5. To make recommendations to sanction a public officer where appropriate; and,
  6. To make any other recommendations as it considers appropriate;
  7. And, to submit, within one month, its report to the President giving reasons for its findings and recommendations.

Though the Commission found the police culpable for over-reacting with reckless behaviour and indiscriminate firing of plastic bullets and tear gas and accused some officers of dishonesty and indefensible laxity, six police officers; Chief Superintendent of Police, Koranteng Mintah, ASP Faakyi Kumi, ASP Frank Awuah, ASP Frank Aryee, ASP John Naami and ASP B.B. Bakomora, charged with 127 counts of manslaughter, were acquitted in court after a submission of no case was upheld.

Years on, the man who was at the centre of the game, Referee Jacob Wilson Sey, said in a media interview that there was nothing wrong with his decision that fateful Wednesday.

“People say my assistant raised his flag, yes he did. But for a different infringement. The infringement was for the same attacker but they already had the advantage.The laws of the game say you should play on, so I allowed the game to continue and the assistant brought his flag down.

And where this gentleman moved to pick the ball had nothing to do with a foul. By law, everything was perfect. He picked the ball and scored. Yes, some people made noise, but it ended and we continued the game.


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I did nothing wrong and I have no guilt. I feel bad for someone losing their father, brother but the blame that triggered the event is false,” Wilson said in an interview with TV3.

The former President of the Ghana Football Association, Kwesi Nyantakyi, touching on the events of that Wednesday was not enthused with crowd violence in the country’s stadia.

“The past events of the Accra Sports Stadium disaster have taught our country a great lesson about public safety, security and crowd control. Let’s allow this day to bring us to terms with what transpired and let’s rededicate ourselves to this cause of ensuring great tolerance and respect for the game. Never again should we stand divided and never again should we allow this to happen,” Kwesi Nyantakyi said.

To those who lost dear ones, May 9 will forever linger in their memories.

“The pain of losing a brother is not easy at all. It still lives with us. Every year if I remember the day, I become sad. I always want the month of May to go fast. It is too unbearable”, Amina Aliu who lost her brother Abdullahi said.

For Ranny Pawani, May 9 is an unforgettable day in her life.

“Losing a husband while breastfeeding a baby is not easy. It has been tough. It is really tough”, she said.

Georgina Addai who went into a coma after hearing the death of her husband said it was impossible to forget the incident when soccer matches are being played or aired on radio.

“May 9, is the worst day in the sporting history of Ghana”, Former Kotoko Chairman, Herbert Mensah said.

A bronze statue of a fan carrying another fan to safety with the inscription title “I Am My Brother’s Keeper” has been erected outside the stadium in honor of the victims of the tragedy.

 

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