When we finally lay the wreath

May 9th Disaster

 

Whenever we lay a wreath for anyone who died in the May 9 disaster, let’s make it a point live in peace and show tolerance to each other despite our conflicting views.

27th June, 2015 – That was the day I decided to finally make the independent decision to go to the Accra Sports Stadium to watch a match.

 I am a bit claustrophobic so meeting a lot of people at the entrance was a lot to handle but my brother’s enthusiasm was encouraging. So I stayed till the end of the match which ended in a 2-2 draw.

Some fans of the former captain of the Black Stars, Stephen Appiah, were quite disappointed when they did not get the chance to interact with the veteran footballer and the other constellation. Personally, I was dying for a photograph with my all time favourite – Samuel Eto’o but he left even before the match ended.

My brother will, however not pass the chance for an experience of a lifetime, so he dragged me along onto the field after the match,  in his spirited attempt to introduce himself to his hero, Stephen Appiah.

Surprising enough, we were able to manoeuvre our way towards the field with little problems, even in the face of the thickest security presence I have seen in my life. Frankly I felt the place was tad overprotected for the occasion, but thanks to the crafty manoeuvres of John we had gotten unto the field unnoticed.

The footballers had left the field so it was free for anyone to enter.  I was taking pictures directly at the entrance of the dressing room when I was pushed by an overwhelming number of people.

 I thought it was a stampede but when I looked back, I found out that there was a security official who had taken out his belt to whip those who had made their way into the dressing room. When the fans complained, he shouted back at them and said : “I told you not to come near this place.”

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The journalist in me would have taken a video of the incident but unfortunately, my battery was too low for that.  Immediately, I embarked on a search for my brother, after which we left the  place before any bad thing could happen.

As I was going home, so many questions run through my mind. Was it right for the security official to assault the fan because he had warned him not to cross into the dressing room? If the crowd were larger than this, how would that particular security official handle the crowd?  This occurrence reminded me of something.

I was only four years old when I watched the May 9 disaster on television. 2001 – that’s about 15 years ago since the incident. It was a match between Hearts and Kotoko.

These two teams were the biggest and most sought after rival teams. The Kotoko fans, after their 2-1 defeat threw plastic seats and bottles unto the pitch. The security at that point also decided to use tear gas to control the crowd which eventually resulted in compressive asphyxia and the death of about 127 people but this was not without a stampede.

There were several law suits against the security officials who were involved in the tear gas spree but none of which could console the families of the 127 people who were lost in the worst stadium disaster in Africa.

I was happy to hear after the recent  Hearts and Kotoko match which resulted in a 1-0 win for Kotoko came to a successful and peaceful end even after the Hearts of Oak goalkeeper, Soulama Abdoulay, scored an own goal.

Previously, this may have resulted in chaos but fortunately it did not. I was happy to see very colourful pictures of the match on social media ; “simply beautiful” , I thought. So what has changed? Is it that people are not as enthusiastic about these two teams any longer?

Definitely not! I still know a lot of die-hard supporters for either of these two teams. I think Ghanaians have grown into a more tolerable and peaceful people over the years. It seems to me that we have taken lessons from the May 9 disaster seriously.

 2016 and the other years ahead promise to be packed with events not withstanding the impending elections (in Ghana). In as much as we are at liberty to show our unflinching support for a particular group, let us do so in a peaceful manner even if the outcome is not what we expect it to be.

Our security agencies must also make it a point to learn how to effectively control crowd while minimising the number of casualties.  Whenever we lay a wreath for anyone who died in the May 9 disaster, let’s make it a point live in peace and show tolerance to each other despite our conflicting views.

Across the world, many similar terrible disasters have occurred.

The Heysel Stadium disaster dating as far back as the 29th of May, 1985 (which was  during the European Cup final )where Juventus beat Liverpool by 1 goal. According to the statistics, 39 people died with 600 people (most being Juventus fans) sustaining injuries after the rioting.

Below is a list of some other riot-sparked stadium disasters  and the total number of casualties recorded

Port Said Stadium disaster in 2012 -79 casualties

In 2001, the Oppenheimer stadium disaster which took place in South Africa and claimed 42 lives. The match involved Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. Fans of the latter are believed to have been responsible for the riot because they felt cheated by the referee who upheld a goal by a player from the Chiefs.

A similar incident involving these same teams occurred at the Ellis Park Stadium,South Africa in 2001. The 43 deaths recorded were as a result of stampede and firing of tear gas by untrained security personnel. All these events were results of uncontrolled tempers and lack of tolerance for others.

Football is a beautiful game and in as much as we all have different club and national interests, we should not try to adulterate its beauty with our vindictive attitude when we do not get what we want.

The game is supposed to bring us together and not tear us apart.

So let us learn to coexist with each other peacefully in which ever part of the world we find ourselves so that all these disasters would never happen again.

Do we all speak football?

Published on: 08 February 2016.

Picture :Kevin Prince Boateng
“Look at a football field. It looks like a big movie screen. This is theatre. Football combines the strategy of chess. It’s part ballet. It’s part battleground, part playground. We clarify, amplify and glorify the name with our footage, the narration and that music, and in the end create an inspirational piece of football,” says Steve Sabol (an American sports filmmaker).

Football is undoubtedly, a beautiful game and I couldn’t agree more with Simon Kuper (a British author) when he said : “It seems that soccer tournaments create those relationships – people gathered together in pubs and living rooms, a whole country suddenly caring about the same event. A World Cup is the sort of common project that otherwise barely exists in modern societies.”

Let’s face it – we all experience that euphoria during tournaments especially but of what use is this feeling to us if we treat each other unequally? Yes, euphoria is transient and I believe racism should be too if not long gone.

In April 2006, FIFA launched a “Say not to racism campaign”. The main aim was to tackle racism with special regard to international issues.

But are we just following those pre – match formalities when people of different colours converge at one venue with one aim but with different stereotypes, or when footballers of different nationalities exchange flags before a game, or even when children from different backgrounds parade the “Say no to racism banner” while racism still dwells with us.

Liverpool's Italian striker Mario Balotelli holds a "Respect" anti-racism banner before kick off of the UEFA Champions League, group B, football match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at Anfield in Liverpool, northwest England, on October 22, 2014. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS        (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Or do we say no to racism just by shaking hands in front of the cameras and later fight each other and use derogatory remarks?

Let’s not pretend. Racism is not a thing of the past and the sooner we deal with this canker, the better for us.

Here are a few examples on how dirty racism can get.

Samuel Eto’o (an award-winning Cameroonian footballer) had to endure being chanted at like a monkey by Real Zaragoza spectators during a match for FC Barcelona.

In addition to that, the fans threw peanuts at him whenever he was in possession of the ball.

Eto’o was at the verge of leaving the pitch in the middle of the game but the timely intervention of his team – mates and the referee succeeded in calming the enraged Eto’o down.

Eto’o later got back at those fans by dancing like a monkey after Barcelona’s win. The referee (Fernando Carmen Mendez) failed to mention this incident and wrote his report as though everything went on normally.

The culprit spectators were later identified by fellow spectators, handed over to the police, fined for unacceptable behaviour and banned from attending sports events for five months. But can we say that justice was served?

In Zambia, the owner of Lusaka Dynamos, experienced a lot of racist remarks due to his Indian heritage.

This occurred at a time that he was running for president of the Football Association of Zambia.

Oguchi Onyewu ( a Nigerian born in America) aside being punched and shouted at by racist fans (while he was playing for Standard Liège) has also endured racist remarks from the likes of Jelle Van Damme who called him a “dirty ape” on several occasions during the 2008 and 2009 Championship playoff despite his complaints to the referees.

Ghana and Uruguay

As expected, Van Damme vehemently denied ever calling Onyewu a ‘dirty ape’. Instead, he claimed to have used the words ‘dirty Flemish’. But does being black automatically mean that one is dirty? Is it a crime to black?

When Felix Dja Ettien first signed for Levante, the coach ignored him due to his lack of fluency in the Spanish Language.

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The most pathetic part of his abuse is that he was accused of having either AIDS or malaria whenever he fell sick.

Does African descent automatically predispose an individual to disease? Or does the ‘A’ in ‘Africa’ stand for AIDS? How sure are we when we say AIDS originated from Africa?

It is completely wrong to think that Africa is an AIDS or Malaria-stricken continent.

Oh! Remember how Delta represented Ghana in their tweet during the World Cup soccer game in which USA beat Ghana by a 2-1 score – line.

Fine, the statue of Liberty is exclusive to the United States of America. But if there are no giraffes in Ghana, why represent Ghanaians by a giraffe then? Or does this imply that all citizens of African Countries have animal-like characteristics?

Despite the fact that Delta airlines removed that tweet (claiming that they had no knowledge of the fact that giraffes are not found in Ghana), it still doesn’t erase the racist picture they painted.

Any discrimination or attack on an individual or a group of people based on skin colour is racist and must be frowned upon.

In female football, there is less racism which is relatively good as Tasha (a Chelsea fan) said: “The tribalism you get in the men’s game, just isn’t really there in the women’s game.” So what are the women doing differently from the men?

Well, there isn’t an absolute answer to this particular question but it can be deduced that racism is not an involuntary action after all; meaning that it is a deliberate attempt on making someone of a different skin colour feel inferior.

Racism can be brought to an end but it would have to start with each individual effort. This is not a one – man battle.

Several footballers on the pitch respond to racist remarks differently. For example, the likes of Kevin Prince Boateng would choose to walk off the pitch.

But I would like to refer to Dani Alves’ response as a very classic reaction to racism.

It was a sweet victory (3-2) win for Barcelona at Villareal. But this win did not come without a lot of drama ;Dani Alves had a fan throw a banana at him while he was about to take a corner.

Contrary to everyone’s expectation, Dani picked up the banana, ate it and eventually scored a goal in that match.

Many people expected Dani to be enraged but after the match, the unruly behaviour of the fan rather led to an anti – racism ‘banana movement’ when players like Sergio Aguero and Marta posted photos of themselves on Twitter eating bananas to show their support for Alves.

Barcelona also showed Alves a lot of solidarity.

Dani Alves is also quoted to have said, “I don’t know who it was, but thanks to whoever threw the banana, the potassium gave me the energy for the two crosses which led to a goal.”

As interesting as some of these racism situations may be, we must all keep in mind that racism would continue to coexist with us if a conscious effort is not made to halt it.

Ian Holloway (Blackpool manager) in his post match interview after Jason Euell had been subjected to racial abuse said: ” We are all human beings and Jason is a footballer. The colour of his skin shouldn’t matter.”

People who speak the same language are supposed to live in unity and not hate each other. When we learn to kick racism out of the pitch, it is only then that we can boldly say that :”We all speak football”.

Let’s all learn to show racism the Red Card.

By: Naa Adzoa Adzeley Boi-Dsane.