Football spectators have of late been ignoring an order not to watch matches from the cordoned areas at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre despite the existing Fifa ban for security reasons.
This has happened in recent crowd-pulling TNM Super League matches between Nyasa Big Bullets and Be Forward Wanderers and Bullets versus Silver Strikers. It also occurred last weekend when the People’s Team hosted FC Platinum of Zimbabwe in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League preliminary round first-leg.
Government cordoned the areas and renovated the facility in 2017 after Fifa and local engineers condemned some stands that developed cracks, arguing they posed a risk to human lives.
Director of sports in the Ministry of Sports, Youth and Culture Jameson Ndalama said it is sad that some fans are defying the order. He said they will call for a meeting with the stakeholders to map the way forward in ensuring the safety of the spectators at the stadium.
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) licensing and compliance manager Casper Jangale said Malawi football and the stadium risk Fifa ban or fines if the cordoned areas collapse and injure or kill spectators, “but the loss of lives would be the most painful penalty for the country”.
“We are sitting on a time bomb that might explode anytime soon if the security measures currently in place continue being disregarded,” he said.
However, when Weekend Nation joined the crowd at one of the two cordoned off stands during the Bullets versus FC Platinum game, it discovered that some soccer fans deliberately ignored the warnings as they got into the restricted area while jumping and singing.
Nevertheless, a blame game has ensued among FAM, clubs, stadium management and security personnel on the responsibility of preventing fans from getting into the restricted areas.
Jangale said it is the responsibility of the soccer lovers themselves to avoid putting their lives at risk, and the duty of security personnel to enforce compliance of the order.
Bullets chief administration officer Albert Chigoga and Wanderers chairperson Gift Mkandawire concurred with Jangale that security personnel at the facility are mostly to blame for the malaise.
“When we hire police officers and stewards, we expect them to handle all the security issues both inside and outside the stadium. But it is sad that they do nothing to prevent people from getting into the cordoned off areas,” Chigoga said.
National chief steward Pascal Nkuta said it is difficult for them to control the crowd because the stadium management has not maintained the barriers at the cordoned off areas.
“The barricades hardly get maintained and it becomes hard for us to do our job as people find it easier to get into the restricted zones through the numerous entry points. We talk about this during pre-match meetings but nothing happens,” he said.
But stadium manager Ambilike Mwaungulu accused the security personnel of failing to execute their duties.
“If soccer fans break the barriers and get into the restricted area, that is security breach and that means the security personnel sleep on the job,” he said.
Soccer analyst George Kaudza-Masina said the best solution is for FAM, Super League of Malawi (Sulom) and clubs to educate football spectators on the dangers of ignoring the security measures.
“They need to take serious measures to avoid the spectators ignoring the order by ensuring that the entrance to the stadium is well regulated,” he said. “Lives of the spectators should be a priority over gate revenue,” he added.
The risks come barely two years after eight people, mainly primary school pupils, died and 48 sustained various injuries during a stampede at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe. The incident occurred when the gates were reportedly being opened five hours before Bullets and Silver clashed as part of the 53rd Independence Celebrations.
The ignoring of security measures has in recent years been the main cause of deaths and injuries at football stadiums across the globe.
In March 2009, about 22 people were killed and 132 injured in a stampede before a World Cup qualifying match in Ivory Coast between the hosts and Malawi.
This was after the stadium in Abidjan was overrun with people who pushed against each other, setting off the panic that led to the stampede ahead of the game.