HARARE-ZIFA’s lack of proper planning and disorganisation was laid bare following the chaotic scenes at the National Sports Stadium on Tuesday night as supporters stampeded to gain entry to watch Zimbabwe play the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in an Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) Group G qualifier.
There was total chaos at almost all designated entry points, which was as a result of the slow pace of the cashiers who were admitting people into the stadium.
As a result, the cash-strapped association lost potential revenue as thousands of people forced themselves in after gaining free entry while hundreds were frustrated away.
“Look, I bought two VIP tickets for $100 for me and my wife to watch this match. We brought our two little kids, and the way we have been treated here is appalling. They have closed the entrances, and are not giving us an explanation.
People are shoving each other, and I can’t do that honestly, lest my kids get injured. I have wasted my money, these guys have stolen from me,” said one supporter as he turned away to head back home.
Another disappointed supporter said, “All over the world, people buy tickets before the match. But here in Zimbabwe we are still operating like we are in the Stone Age. We know these football administrators create this mess so that they can steal money. This is absolutely unacceptable, it’s unbelievable.”
The situation was dreadful at the entrance to the VVIP enclosure with ticket holders, VVIP officials and the media being denied entry into the stadium.
Marshals manning the entrance kept the door locked despite numerous pleas from the supporters to open the gates.
Former Sports minister Kazembe Kazembe, who has been re-assigned to the ICT ministry, was one of the VVIP officials caught up in the chaos, and could be seen pleading with the marshals, who had none of it. He walked away.
Supporters got impatient as the kick-off drew closer, and some were seen scaling the perimeter fence, before the crowd that had formed at the main VVIP pulled the gate down.
There was nothing the police officer on sight and the marshals could do about it.
A few made it on time to see Khama Billiat score the Warriors’ opener in the opening minute of the match, and had a torrid time to narrate it to thousands who were not fortunate enough to watch the beautiful goal despite parting with their hard-earned money.
At the other designated entry points around the stadium, some security details manning the gates took advantage of the chaos and made a killing, pocketing the entry fees from desperate fans.
Over 40 000 supporters turned up for the match, despite a last-minute hike of gate charges by Zifa.
The cheapest ticket for the game was $5, from the $3 that the association had initially advertised, hiking the figure on the eve of the match.
Zifa board member finance Philemon Machana said he would issue a statement after their post-mortem meeting of the chaos that nearly turned into a fatal stampede.
“We are meeting for a post-mortem tomorrow (today), so it would be improper for me to comment at this stage. I will issue a comprehensive statement after the post-mortem because the analysis of what happened might require some experts in security. For some people to say that it is the lack of organisation by Zifa, those are mere allegations. We are in a democratic country and people have a right to say what they think, but after the post-mortem, we will take blame where we should,” said Machana.
For all the troubles they went through before kick-off, those that persevered to watch the match got full value, with the two teams exhibiting good quality football through-out the match.
The match ended in 1-all draw, with Teenage Hadebe’s own goal cancelling out Billiat’s early strike. The result kept Zimbabwe in charge of Group G with eight points after four matches, while DRC remained second with five.
The other group members Congo Brazzaville and Liberia are on four points each, with two rounds of matches still to play.
The group winner and the runner-up qualify for the Afcon finals set for Cameroon next June. NEWSDAY