Zimbabwe Soccer Stampede Kills 13

Monday, July 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A stampede left 13 people dead in the nation's worst sports tragedy, triggered when police fired tear gas at unruly soccer fans during a World Cup qualifying game.

Players from South Africa and Zimbabwe choked and writhed on the field, covering their faces as tear gas spread through National Sports Stadium.

Hospital authorities said 12 victims were dead on arrival Sunday, and another fan died of injuries Monday. Many others were injured.

A doctor said most of the deaths were from internal injures consistent with being crushed.

President Robert Mugabe on Monday accused opposition agitators of provoking the violence.

He said a group of agitators had been planted at the stadium to shout slogans and display opposition party symbols before throwing bottles and other things on the field, the official Zimbabwe news agency reported.

``Sport should never turn into warfare,'' Mugabe said.

Welshman Ncube, the third ranking official in the main opposition party, accused Mugabe of attempting to defend ``criminal overreaction'' by police.

``Even if people shouted slogans, it was spontaneous and this was clearly unjustifiable action by the police,'' he said.

FIFA, soccer's governing body, expressed ``sincere condolences to the bereaved families,'' and said it will investigate. The Zimbabwe Football Association said Monday it also will look into the tragedy and report to FIFA.

Fans hurled bottles and other items onto the field after South Africa scored its second goal in the 84th minute, giving the visitors a 2-0 lead in the game, part of the second round of African qualifying for the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea.

Police then fired tear gas at the crowd of more than 50,000. A stampede broke out as the fans scrambled to leave the stadium. A fire hydrant was torn from its mountings, spraying water over fleeing fans.

The game was called off with about 10 minutes remaining, but South Africa's 2-0 victory over Zimbabwe was ruled official.

The deaths follow three other stadium tragedies in recent years during World Cup qualifiers.

Nine were crushed during a stampede at in Zambia in 1996. At least 78 were killed in a stampede that October at Guatemala City, and at least three died on April 23 in Liberia in an overcrowded stadium.

Among the players in Sunday's game were three who play for English clubs — Quinton Fortune and Eric Tinkler of South Africa and Peter Ndlovu of Zimbabwe.

The violence came three days after South Africa was denied in its bid to become the first African country to hold the World Cup. Germany was awarded the 2006 tournament in a 12-11 vote by the executive committee of FIFA, soccer's Swiss-based governing body.

South Africa made it to the first round of the 1998 World Cup and placed third in this year's African Nations Cup. Zimbabwe has never qualified for the World Cup and did not qualify for this year's African Nations Cup.