Iran launches investigation into stadium collapse that killed two

Monday, May 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SARI, Iran (AP) _ Iranian soccer officials began an investigation Monday into the collapse of a roof at an overcrowded stadium that left at least two fans dead and hundreds injured.

The fiberglass roof of the Mottaqi Stadium grandstand in Sari, 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of Tehran, collapsed under the weight of cheering fans during a soccer match Sunday afternoon. The game attracted nearly twice as many spectators as the structure could accommodate, a regional official told The Associated Press Monday.

Two people died and a third was in critical condition at a local hospital, Asghar Samarbakhsh, deputy sports director for Mazandaran province, said.

Abdullah Madani, head of the Mazandaran Medical Science University, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that both deaths were from head injuries. Madani said out of 290 people who were injured, 182 had been treated and released and 108 remained hospitalized in ``satisfactory'' condition.

Samarbakhsh blamed local police for the disaster. He said 25,000 people had been allowed into the stadium meant to accommodate 15,000 spectators.

``The police are to blame for not preventing people without tickets from entering the stadium. All those who were on the roof had come into the stadium without tickets,'' Samarbakhsh said.

A police official refused to comment.

``What a calamity for me and my family to see the death of my beloved son over a soccer match,'' said the father of one of the victims, identified as Ali Akbar Faraji, 42. He stood outside the hospital where his son died, along with 25 family members beating their heads and wailing in mourning.

Mehdi Bayani, assistant director of the Mazandaran sports department, was quoted by IRNA as saying that some of the fans illegally sat on the roof, which was built to protect spectators against the sun and rain.

After the roof collapsed, angry fans clashed with police trying to make their way into the stadium. Officials and spectators said that the stadium was old and so overcrowded that medical workers could not quickly reach some of the injured.

State-run television showed images of fans wielding metal poles battling anti-riot forces on the field. One wall of the stadium was torn down, and iron fences separating the grandstand from the field had been rooted out. Large sections of the grandstand seating were burned down.

Many of those attending the match were fans of the popular Persepolis team, who became angry that their squad was losing 2-0 at the beginning of the second halftime, said Kasra Manoochehri, another official in the provincial sports department.

``It was an explosive atmosphere. When the building collapsed, it was an excellent opportunity for fans supporting Persepolis to set things on fire, so the whole game could be terminated without any conclusion,'' she told The Associated Press.

Ahmad Ali Barzegar, the senior doctor on duty at the Bu Ali hospital in Sari, where some of the injured had been rushed, said security forces had opened fire on the crowds, and that several people with bullet wounds had been brought in. He said hospital officials had been ordered not to speak to journalists or to let the wounded talk.

A team of investigators from the Islamic Republic of Iran Soccer Federation, led by the federation's secretary Ali Akbar Erfanian Daneshvar, arrived in Sari, said Mohammad Fanai, a leading soccer referee and a member of the team.

He would not comment on the investigation.

President Mohammad Khatami on Sunday ordered the team to look into the causes of the accident.

This is the second time in five months that the Persepolis team has played a game that ended in rioting.

In December, fighting between Persepolis players and another team ended in riots during a game in Tehran. After the game, hooligans among the more than 100,000 fans destroyed about 250 public buses along the 5-kilometer (3-mile) route from the stadium to the capital.

Persepolis changed its name after the 1979 Iranian revolution to Pirouzi, but recently changed it back to Persepolis.