Soccer Tragedies Continue Despite Safety Efforts
Oct. 18, 1996
NEW YORK (AP) _ Heysel. Hillsborough. Bradford. Names that recalled the worst soccer stadium disasters of recent years led to changes meant to prevent the kind of tragedy that occurred in Guatemala.
In Europe, for the most part, they have. But in Latin America and elsewhere, in places with little money to make improvements, aging stadiums are still troubled by too many spectators, too much crowding, and too few ways to escape when an incident sparks a panic.
``We learned some painful lessons and we've done something about it,'' said Philip French of the London-based English Football Trust.
The Football Trust was set up to help clubs bring old stadiums up to modern safety standards.
It was established following the Hillsborough Stadium disaster in Sheffield, England, in 1989, when 95 people died in a stampede along fences that surrounded the field.
A large group of fans outside the stadium clamored to get in. Police, fearing a riot or stampede, opened the gates and allowed the group to enter a filled terrace section, trapping the fans already there.
It was the last straw for England. Fifty-six people had died in Bradford in May 1985 when a lit cigarette fell beneath the stands and ignited a pile of debris that set the wooden stadium on fire. Less than three weeks later, 39 people, most of them fans of the Italian club Juventus, were killed at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, at the Champions Cup final.
There, drunken fans, mostly of the English club Liverpool, instigated brawls that collapsed a wall between the two groups.
``The vast majority of grounds of big clubs that attract big attendance are of Victorian origin, built early in the century or even before that,'' French said.
The guidelines and laws introduced in Britain after the Hillsborough disaster mandated that perimeter fencing be removed, popular terrace or standings sections be eliminated, and that measures such as closed-circuit TV surveillance be employed.
In July 1989, the world soccer association FIFA mandated that all qualifying matches for the 1994 World Cup provide a seat for each spectator. If there were terrace sections, they could not be used.
It also strongly urged against perimeter fencing, but could not and cannot mandate it because it is required by law in some countries.
For the most part, the rules have worked. But around the world, disasters have continued.
Soccer fans stampeded before a World Cup qualifying match in Guatemala City on Wednesday, crushing and smothering one another in one of the worst sports tragedies in years. Officials said Thursday that at least 84 people were killed.
Earlier this year, nine people were killed in Lusaka, Zambia, after their team beat Sudan in a World Cup qualifier. The fans were crushed as the crowd stampeded, apparently trying to get a glimpse of the team as it left the stadium.
At least 40 people were killed in Orkney, South Africa, in January 1991, when fans panicked trying to flee brawling in the stands during a local match.
Despite the guidelines, soccer's worldwide appeal ensures that it will be played in antiquated stadiums, sometimes in places where local authorities may not have the means to replace or renovate.
``Places like Guatemala will suffer,'' French said. ``The poorer countries might not have the sums to invest. It may be a place were someone like FIFA should provide funds.''