I was watching the Ivory Coast v. Senegal match today. This was the first time I’ve sat down and watched a match on TV in too long. I was cheering for Senegal as I have friends from there and I was having a good time with it. The teams were spirited, the fans came out in droves to cheer on their home side in Dakar, and the teams were both very muscular in their pursuit of a result for their side.
Senegal was clearly outclassed and were already down 4-2 on aggregate from the first leg of the match. That’s a tough position to be in when you’re playing against a guy named Drogba and two guys named Toure. Senegal pressed very hard with repeated crosses into the box that could have resulted in goals, until one of those 3 previously mentioned players stepped in and headed the ball away. Again and again.
The inevitable happened at 52 minutes when Drogba scored on a free kick. The match continued until a penalty (I saw a hand ball and a trip, others disagree but the call still stands) converted by Drogba set off the down mood in the stands into an angry mood. The celebration infront of the home crowd by the visitors didn’t help much either. But who can blame the scorer for being happy?
It started with a pitch invasion that was ended at mid field by a tackle from police. Then a fire broke out around mid field up in the poorly designed terraces. It descended into general anarchy and disorder from there. Fires all around, Ivory Coast fans abused, explosions and smoke with fans gathering and pressing in groups from terror and excitement. The match was suspended, and at this time likely abandoned. The audio feed was cut so I do not know the ultimate outcome.
I was watching the match while chatting online with a friend of mine from Kenya. She was born in Nairobi, raised in a village outside the town until high school, and grew up in Canada and Kenya in alternating years from then on. She is a huge soccer fan and watched numerous matches back home in Kenya. I told her what was going on when the fires started to happen and she replied “That’s Africa for you. We go hard.”
I continued to watch as the terraces emptied and the commentators spoke on. What I saw as the people left the spaces around them empty was a stadium built for rioting. 60 000 people all packed into one level of a terrace with few exits, no aisles, and no seating. This is exactly the stadium design at fault for every other stadium disaster in soccer’s history. This was not an ‘Africa for you.’ Rioting over sports is not something I’d put on any one nation or nationality. I was working as a bouncer at a club in downtown Vancouver after game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals when the Canucks lost.
What happened in Senegal today was the result you get when 60 000 people in a constrained place are the wrong kind of passionate about what is going on around them. Couple that with poor exits, poor walking paths, and a bad police/security presence (despite 1000 claimed to be on hand) and this will happen in England, Canada, USA, Spain, and anywhere else. It is a shame, but I will not blame it on the African people. As a Canadian who has had a few lung fulls of tear gas and mace because a sports team lost, I will say it is much more than the ethnicity of those participating that matters. I will even say it is the last factor to look at.
I do hope everyone at the Senegal v. Ivory Coast match got out of the stadium in Dakar uninjured. I believe it is time for careful consideration on all stadiums that are to be built in Africa and everywhere else, and to consider alternatives to the current ones still in use. These types of old terraced single level stadiums are no longer acceptable for any sporting event of this size.