Panic in the park and who to blame for FNB tragedy?

Sy Lerman (File)
Sy Lerman (File)

Panic at the park - and then the consequent, overriding tragedy of two spectators crushed to their death during Kaizer Chiefs' 1-0 win over Orlando Pirates in the pre-season Carling Black Label clash at FNB Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

So what were the reasons for the disaster at what was technically no more than a pre-season friendly - and who was to blame for the catastrophe erupting in the first place?

In a nutshell, it occurred because a large percentage of the ultimate 87 000 crowd with illogical, but traditional passions for any occasion these traditional rivals meet,  were still outside the stadium when the game kicked off and, in some instances, forcibly attempted to make sure they would not miss any of the action.

The prime reason for this log jam was the chaotic, inadequate traffic arrangements that left traffic stationary and extending for as far as five km from the ground itself - compounded by inadequate ground entry points and the tendency of spectators locally to make their way to games at an unrealistically late juncture.

Also, it appears the situation was further aggravated by the discovery that a number of tickets were forgeries, inflating the number of those present after the "house full" signs had gone up weeks before the game itself.

But going back to what might be judged the root of the problem is the blasé response of the PSL to ugly crowd disorder at the Premier League game in which Mamelodi Sundowns hit Pirates for six goals almost six months.

To this day the League has not delivered justice to those responsible as a firm warning and deterrent generally not to repeat unsavoury and ill-disciplined behaviour, as well as to take action ensure the elimination of lax and insufficient security arrangements.

Because Saturday's game was a friendly fixture, there is a degree of vagueness as to what role the PSL was required to play in ensuring adequate arrangements and how much was in the hands of the clubs themselves and the stadium management, with a great deal of finger pointing taking place as to who was truly to blame for what happened.

In retrospect, of course, it is clear the kick-off should have been delayed with so many thousand on the outside of the action, intensifying the pent-up tension.

Also, after the extent of the fatalities and injuries was established, many felt the game should have been abandoned.

But in justification of not implementing what might be termed a humane decision, officials claim they took into account the possibility that halting the game could have inflated emotions further and created more widespread problems.

Ultimately it would seem, blame for the FNB tragedy can be divided in varying degrees with all the parties involved in one way or another.

And as a bitter irony, it might be pointed out that while 87 000 plus swarmed to FNB Stadium for what was officially a soccer friendly, a more modest crowd of 27 000 was simultaneously present a few kilometres away at Ellis Park for the all-important Super Rugby semi-final between the Lions and the Hurricanes.

But that, it can be accepted, is a story for another day.

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