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S.Africa reels following tragedy

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- South Africa's worst sporting tragedy has been blamed on too many people seeking tickets for the derby between two rival football teams.

But the country's newspapers also dwelt on security and the suitability of the Ellis Park stadium for such a high profile soccer match.

Newspapers were peppered with comments of "shame" and "chaos" over the disaster at the prestigious stadium, which hosted to the Rugby World Cup finals in 1995.

The Business Day newspaper headlined its front-page lead story: "SA's night of soccer carnage, shame."

Police said in the Daily Mail & Guardian that it was too early to start blaming anyone.

One of the team's coaches added: "I don't believe that we can place the blame on any single person."

  AUDIO

Eyewitness Michael McMullan: The crowd just kept coming

624K/57 sec.
AIFF or WAV sound

CNN's Charlayne Hunter Gault: Tickets were oversold

545kb/49secs.
AIFF or WAV sound

S. African Sports Minister Ngconde Balfour: People were crushed

422K/39 sec.
AIFF or WAV sound
 
  RESOURCES
 • Ellis Park, Johannesburg
 • Team profiles
 
  ALSO
 

Government officials and sports management officers will carry out an inquiry into how so many people, including children, lost their lives.

But, quoting witnesses, the papers said a mass surge by fans unable to obtain tickets forced fences down with supporters becoming trapped between the barbed wire and the pitch.

Fans were "pushed and crushed like animals against barbed wire by security guards, said one spectator," the Daily Mail & Guardian said.

The match between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates was a sell-out, but up to 60,000 supporters pressed upon the stadium's locked east gate, some climbing over, trying to join the 60,000 capacity crowd in the all-seater stadium.

The Dispatch and Business Day newspapers quoted South African Broadcasting Corporation television as saying too many tickets had been sold for the game.

The Star newspaper said: "Last night, fans accused the authorities of not managing the sale of the tickets.

"It would not have happened if the tickets had been pre-sold, they said."

It added: "Tens of thousands of hopefuls just pitched up at the stadium on the chance of getting tickets -- some from far away -- and could not accept the fact that they were not allowed in."

Even when all the tickets had been sold radio reports failed to warn supporters not to make the journey.

One witness was quoted in the Daily Mail & Guardian asking why the game had not been put back an hour to allow officials to try and handle the situation.

"It could have at least kept the toll down," he said.

Others said the big derby between two of the country's top teams should have been scheduled for a weekend rather than a mid-week evening kick-off.

The Star said: "Many expressed fury at the choice of venue. Ellis Park can accommodate around 65,000 people, whereas FNB stadium, which is Orlando Pirates' home ground near Soweto, and hosts most soccer internationals, has room for more than 80,000. Until last year, the two teams shared FNB."

The Star added: "Eyewitnesses leaving the ground last night said the disaster happened because Ellis Park -- a multi-purpose stadium most famous for its rugby -- was too small to accommodate all those who wanted to see the crucial game."

The security guards were also blamed for their handling of the situation.

The Star quoted a supporter as saying: "The security people could not cope with the pressure of people."

Another witness in the paper said: "I kept on looking for security guards to help me -- I never saw them."

Some reports say tear gas was used in an effort to push back fans, but the police deny it was fired.

Police said security was a matter for the stadium's management rather than itself -- the police were on hand for only criminal activities, they said.

Gauteng Police Commissioner Sharma Maharaj told the Times he was happy with "what police did yesterday."

He added: "We had enough police officers to carry out the duty they were assigned to do."

George Stainton, general manager for the stadium, said there had been "untrue reports at the moment." He said clearer details would be revealed after a meeting of the various groups.

Wolf Event Management officials at the stadium would not comment.

The match was only called off 33 minutes into the game after the Premier Soccer League chief executive officer Robin Petersen alerted the referee.

He was quoted in the papers as saying: "Maybe had we responded earlier, the situation would have been averted."

He added: "We did not realise the magnitude of the problem."



RELATED STORY:
Forty-three die in soccer stampede
April 11, 2001

RELATED SITES:
South African Football Association
Premier Soccer League
South African Government
South African Broadcasting Corporation
South African Football Association
Ellis Park stadium

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