In the wake of the disturbances that occurred at the football match pitting Kenya’s top two teams in terms of achievement and popularity, there have been knee jerk reactions that have predictably taken place. There have been a myriad of commentaries about the matter. The best thing though would be to take a deeper analysis if we are to get to the root cause of the problem and to offer solutions that ensure the repeat of such terrible incidents don’t recur.
In summary, Gor Mahia’s Ali Abondo was red carded by referee Davies Omweno in the 64th minute of the match and Gor fans did not agree with the referee’s decision. They threw projectiles on the pitch leading to the stoppage of the match for over twenty minutes.
The police lobbed tear gas at Gor fans most of whom cleared from the stadium. The match eventually resumed thereafter when the pitch had been cleared of the stones by the Gor players and other security officials.
After the match, the Gor coach John Bobby Ogolla blamed the referee for having been lenient on Leopards players whose tackles had put his players out of the game. One Gor official was quoted, amidst the mayhem that had ensued, to say he was hoping the gate collection was huge due to the crowd that had turned up.
Leopards appealed to the football authorities to award them the match amongst a host of demands and the football governing body in the country swiftly moved to suspend the in-charge of security GMT Otieno. The Sports Stadia Management Board suspended Gor from using its facilities foe a year whilst a decision is still pending from the Kenya Premier League on the appeal by Leopards and on the threats issued by Claws Trust, a supporters trust of Leopards fans, to institute legal action against the culpable parties.
But in the face of all these developments, there are issues that should be clear and which if addressed could go a long way into curbing the menace at the stadium that has been long with us and which we shouldn’t pretend to have begun just the other day.
Historically, matches between the two teams have always been high tension matches and clashes have taken place inside and outside the stadium. That is not in dispute. However, Gor seems to have a greater percentage of violence related incidents than Leopards. This necessitated a Ministerial Statement in Parliament when on July 25, 1985, the Minister of Culture and Social Services Kenneth Matiba declared that, “Mr. Speaker Sir, regrettably, it appears that it is the supporters of Gor Mahia Football Club who, more often than not, cause trouble.”
It is now folklore that whenever the two teams meet, there is bound to be some security risk. In the book, ‘How To Be a Kenyan’, former Nation columnist Wahome Mutahi dedicated a chapter called ‘A Piece of Leather’ to what one should expect when Leopards play Gor. In it he says: Should your team lose, that to you has nothing to do with the quality of the team, even if it played like a bunch of kindergarten kids. Blame the referee and as usual mete out instant punishment by rushing to the pitch to punch him. Then start throwing stones at anything in sight, particularly if it is mobile.
That a book published in 1996 still has relevance to what happened recently shows you that there seems to have been nothing done to arrest what was happening all those years ago. In the here and now, Supersport has taken Gor off the screens, SSMB has banned the club from its facilities for one year and perhaps more action is forthcoming from KPL.
But what should be done rather than the usual talk with no action?
Sports Stadia Management Board
Firstly, the SSMB has been given the mandate by an Act of Parliament to manage the sports facilities in the country and the biggest of them all are Nyayo Stadium and Kasarani. Yet at the scene of the last clash, one sees great incompetence by the SSMB in management of these facilities as can be noted from the failure to have basic sports facility principles followed through.
There are no numbered seats for fans who purchase tickets to attend the matches thus it is quite difficult to identify the specific scenes of trouble of the origin of projectiles as the fans purchasing the tickets are not tied down to any seat number. When the SSMB painted the terraces to show the sitting spaces, one would have imagined the next logical step was to number the rows alphabetically for each terrace and then have a number, even if its mere concrete. So that when one buys a ticket for Terrace 7, they would then sit at Row C12 or higher up at the terraces like Row P16. This is a bare necessity.
During the match, I noticed that many fans sat on the gangways or the aisle that is at the end of the terrace which is supposed to be for movement. This can be a disaster when there is reason to evacuate the stadium and unfortunately, there are no stewards to ask fans to be seated at the space for viewing rather than on the aisle.
Due to the lack of emphasis on seating arrangements, fans dance all over the stadium and thus occupy the area between the terraces and the perimeter fence. There is nothing wrong with dancing, and as an African nation, our songs have always invariably been accompanied by dance but it is important for the SSMB to ensure the dancing takes place in the terraces. No atmosphere will be lost if fans can come up with other ways in which to express their admiration for their teams.
Speaking of evacuation of the stadium, any architect would tell you that a stadium is designed in a manner that allows the flow of fans into the stadium at a controlled pace and the instant evacuation should there be any disaster. Usually, the exits should be more than the entry points. Gor fans were put at a serious risk when the police fired tear gas and expected them to run out of the stadium though the few entry points that had been opened. This stadium has lost a lot of fans and it is time there was emphasis on security of the fans and players before some actions such as lobbying tear gas at fans are taken.
There are usually loud speakers during national holidays at the stadium but during the recent match, the tannoy announcer wasn’t heard across the stadium. It is obvious that if the stadium was to be evacuated, the announcements would not reach all the fans as I later heard that there was indeed a loud-speaker at the Main Stand which wasn’t however heard across the stadium.
One point which has been raised by the Gor Secretary General is that there were stones aplenty in the stadium. It is embarrassing for the SSMB to be collecting huge figures of money from teams (and it is reputed they collected as high as Kshs. 800,000 during this match) and yet do little in terms of managing the facility. Clearing debris and rubbish should be a continuous exercise that goes on every time so that by the time people are being admitted to the stadium, the stadium is habitable and safe.
It is apparent that the safety of fans and players is not well taken care of by the SSMB. Leopards defender Abbas Kiwaalabye got injured in a previous match this season by a sprinkler point at the stadium. The stadium lawn is in a bad shape and when tackles fly, you see dust rising from the point of impact. Indeed, this may have contributed as a causa proxima to the injuries suffered by Gor players on the day. It is time this was also fixed.
Something else that should be highlighted is the decision by the SSMB to put up some extensions to the stadium by building some developments that seem to be office space outside the stadium. It is a shocking decision because some of these extensions are so close to the outer perimeter fence and may affect the flow of fans into and out of the stadium. The extensions are currently taking place near Gate 2 and Gate 3 which as we all know was the point at which seven fans lost their lives in a stampede on 23rd October 2010. It is my prayer that when making these extensions, the safety of fans has been considered and that this isn’t another venture to make money at the expense of fans security.
So before the SSMB starts making judgments about other people such as the Gor fans, it is time they also removed the log in their eyes. Leopards fans who will continue to use the facility will still be at risk (though with the high risk match against Gor now removed from the stadium) and will still end up being punished for no fault of their own during this recent match.
It is even rumoured that the stadium does not have any emergency power generator and that if there is a black-out, then a match is abandoned. How callous can the administrators be when they are receiving such huge amounts in gate collections?
With the blundering SSMB, it is a high time both Leopards and Gor bought or built their own stadia where they have full control of the stadium security and safety instead of merely donating money (a whopping 15% of the total collections) to a bottomless pit which is the SSMB.
The role of the police also should come under scrutiny for their actions have the effect of either quelling the violence or exacerbating the situation. Looking at Gor fans, having to run over barriers at the stadium in fleeing from the tear gas makes one wonder if there was any co-ordination with SSMB personnel and security officers before lobbing tear gas at the fans. Stampedes are made out of such decisions and one needs to ensure that the get away is clear before lobbing the tear gas as fans will invariably flee from the choking fumes.
Further, in other parts of the world, people are examining the health risks of tear gas and using other means to quelling riots. There may be fans who have lung problems and who may end up with serious health risks due to the lobbing of tear gas into the crowd. Claws Trust, announced that it was made aware of one fan who had difficulties in breathing due to her asthmatic condition and had to stay on at the stadium till late before she felt better.
Lobbing tear gas, if indeed it is the necessary option, should be a means of last resort and there is extreme danger to the safety of the other fans who are peaceful. The best resort remains apprehending the people who are throwing stones to the pitch or at other fans.
The police need to work with the leaders of supporters groups and branches in identifying all the trouble makers and having them nabbed and prosecuted in a court of law rather than merely lob tear gas at them and let them escape. This is why the police need to make demands on the SSMB to make sure that ticket sales include people giving the names of the person for whom the ticket is purchased so that it is retained for record and security purposes.
One other blunder that the police made on the fateful match was to clear Gor fans from the inside of the stadium and let them loose on the outside from whence they threw stones back into the stadium at the Leopards fans. There were moments when Leopards fans had to hurry up to the upper terraces to avoid being stoned and a few fans suffered injury when stones were thrown by the departed fans into the stadium as those rowdy fans were still in the precincts of the stadium. That was utter disregard for the safety of the Leopards fans and players and I believe it is partially due to this that the Leopards officials insisted they were playing on under protest.
Gor fan Okil Kamaloka posted an insightful post on the Gor Facebook Page in which he also asked why there was no buffer between the fans of the opposing teams. Pre-match, there has been hype that the area above Gate 6 would be no-mans land but the police allowed the area to be occupied. The police also seemed passive even in the face of blatant breach of security for instance when a fan jumped onto the pitch. Surely there have to be some proper security measures taken by the police rather than mere posturing.
Finally, Gor officials had also indicated prior to the match that there were plans to cause violence and it is obvious that where such violence threats are reported, the police have to be informed. Did the police take any action about the claims? this is a question that one needs to look at too since merely alleging and not acting will ultimately be the face of incompetence.
As for Gor Mahia, one of the lessons that the officials of the team, and indeed many other teams in the league should realize is that the respect for match officials is mandatory. The team officials shouldn’t criticize match officials as this often creates a perception of persecution to the fans. This is why the Gor officials should apologise to the match officials for questioning their decisions.
One may have noticed that after the red card was flashed to the Abondo, Gor players surrounded the referee and disputed the call.
Moments like this end up inflaming the decisions taken and even if the same players ended up picking up the stones and telling their fans to calm down, they players have to realize their initial actions were a contributor to the fans reaction. Leagues in other countries have had campaigns such as the RESPECT campaign that is aimed at respect for match officials and acceptance of the decisions with the option of complaining to the football authorities (and not the media) after a match.
One of the drawbacks to our football is that the clubs are still living from hand to mouth and thus they are reluctant to spend more on security and on stewards but this is one thing that Gor urgently needs to address. Leopards have introduced season tickets which as still fraught with problems especially with some matches being out of the specific home venue and with no seat allocations at the stadium but perhaps one of the ideas that should be encouraged is to have various branches being allocated sitting spaces for their members or their members friends and guests to together and therefore being responsible for those areas in the terraces.
This will assist in the identification of the trouble makers who will then be prosecuted by the state. From the various photos that were taken by the media including some showing people with SSMB property such as water tanks and some carrying stones, the Gor fraternity can actually start with the previous match to show they are committed to bring an end to the madness at the stadia.
The obsession with nabbing those with fake tickets should be handled separately and prosecutions brought against those found engaging in the racket as this endangers the security of the fans and makes the point of having seat allocation even more valid as any two people who turn up at the same seat will mean one of them is having a fake (or mistake) ticket.
Gor has had a period of highs in the recent past and it is therefore understandable that their fans have high expectations of their team which finished the 2010 season in the second position. The team was expected to win the 2011 title but finished a respectable fourth. Thus, managing the expectations is something that one need to look at so that fans of any team that is on a high, realize there will be moments when they hit some lows. It is a fair warning to Leopards fans that are now on a high to ensure they keep their cool when the down turn arrives.
Each team should be asked to prepare a match day inspection record that shows all the security arrangements that were done before the match and the inspection of all areas of the match.
Having said this, the average Gor fan, one would like to think, is a peaceful fan and in fact most photos taken before the match, the fans were happily mixing with Leopards fans.
Kenya Premier League
As for the Kenya Premier League, the delays that have always taken place when there is trouble or incidents at any match have to stop. In the end, the punishment should fit the crime.
Recently, the Rangers coach brazenly told the media that his team had no money to pay the referees which was an attack on the integrity of the match officials. It is not clear if the coach has been sanctioned or fined.
There has to be consistent action taken against all the persons who impute improper motives on the league and its officials. Fining teams and even docking teams points should start being part of the punishments meted out. Ordering teams to play before empty stadia has not been working and thus it is important to ensure that no suspended punishments are handed out as has been the case in the past.
Shockingly, the Football Kenya Federation, which has had a series of name changes came out to say that matches in the Nairobi Derby will be officiated by foreign referees. This was a practice that took place in the 1970s and which was long discontinued and it shows the level of desperation to be seen to act (rather than to act) that bedevils our football.
The League should engage the Sports Ministry to enact at Football Spectators Act as they did in England after the disasters of the 1980s which will provide forhefty punishments and criminalize what has become a usual pastime of throwing stones to the pitch and at motorists during and after a match respectively. Such an Act can also criminalize even the verbal threats that are heard in Kenyan stadia and also criminalize the admission of fans into a public place like a stadium without taking adequate security. There should be proper inspection of turnstiles; control rooms; CCTV; emergency and ambulance services; segregation arrangements; seating, gangways and exits; escape lighting; fire fighting and resisting equipment; stewarding; emergency generators and so on.
Let us do more because ultimately, people’s lives are in our hands and the safety of people at the stadia when they go to watch football, should always be supreme.